Near-Shore Whalefalls of the South China Sea
rating: +16+x

Morning, 11th of August, Ultraviolet district of Macau. The canal water is warm like urine, reeks of dead rats and spoiled sewage; the mass is wet and lumpy and slimy with drifting ephemeral sludge that catches, webs between my fingers and trails in mucousy ribbons when I take my hand from the inch-thick current running down the beach and wipe it on my cargo pants to join a satellite map of engine grease and washed-out stains. The water is bad this time of year, but the weather — hot, slow, sludgy air polluted like sediment kicked up by a low-bellied speedboat's propeller — is not so bad I can refuse this job.

Above me is the origin of this foul estuary. The drainage pipes of the city diarrhea the effluence of humanity: blood, guts, soiled paper, chemical runoff vibrant and oil runs rainbow against the cast iron, thumb-thick pipe walls. I climb into the rightmost of the pipe series, easing myself inside. Cars overhead, feet from the seawall and the remnant beach, are remembered in these subterranean concrete edifices — not in sound but the shuddering of vibrations, drawn out like tunes of Tibetan singing bowls all the way down. But somber, a flute-song. For me — an intruder in this hidden place, walls scuffed with my chalk-marks of months making dents in decades of history — the unsound above worms in my bones, each engine hunting different resting places in my skeleton like the reverberant knocks of a man searching for wall studs.

I crawl forward to the edge of light’s domain. The Macau water supply is tainted with lead and gasoline and factory runoff, makes the fish grow three heads when you aren’t looking — and in a way, that makes the city a specialty of mine. Up there with automobiles, tank guts, beating-heart Cessna engines pumped to the lungs with dual oxygen-RBC/leaded-gasoline and petroleum venous fluid, arterial matter. Up there with kaiju parts, even — those of snakes and centipede models, though that work’s not often enough for me to think it as part of myself. Special order today, one I ought not have taken — but I am missing parts at the shop, so I'd be diving out here anyway. Makes things all the sweeter, after a fashion.

The canal is dry of fish and runs thick with venous white like it is gunked up with pus. In aquariums, shrimp and small fry collect in the HOB filter — in a mountain, everything goes upriver. But this is a city; our river runs through a million pipes and canals and land cuts, farm irrigation channels and sweatshop floor tiles, and rivers are no barriers to our progress.

I am at the river-mouth where river turns into bank statement and warning: do not drink. Into the gaping cesspool mouth I hunch down, tunnel tube not meant for people in theory but designed for workers to fit inside in reality, wormlike until I am in and then I crawl like a mole hands down, arms and legs beneath. Army crawl, but army recruitment here’s dried up since the sport infiltrated Macau, too. They'd only lasted so long because one in ten owns a television, and only half of those have the signal to watch it. Nothing good on, anyway, if you ask me. Bear crawl, then, or maybe Bloodscourge-shuffle. I'm not afraid to admit my favourites, even if I'm not a fan. I click the headlamp on, LED illumination shattering on the slick algae and pustulent mutant cyanobacteria in blue-white flecks, and for a moment my eyes remember and the walls are black and glistening back like a night full of stars in a continent without floodlights that burn the wonder away. I hunch there, heart filled with an ice-memory and the taste of snow on my tongue, frozen with longing. And then a wave of heat burrows down the tunnel, rakes my skin in rank Macau saliva of the hungry air, and the feeling dissipates. I am here in a black tunnel of iron and slime where the smell of the sea is a memory. The cut is all there is, and it is dry. My skin is layered in five different brands of sunscreen and still reddening. I am here.

With a shove of a shoulder, a gasp of pain, a squeal sharper than a slaughterhouse pig and a shaky clatter, the prison grille of the drainage pipe — the sewage tunnel — breaks free and tumbles backwards into the abyss. And I crawl after it, wan light of the sun deigning not to enter even an inch within and the dull reflection of light off my skin into the space before me is all I can use to see before the last of my coat trails into the pipe after me like a rat’s tail slurped between the beakparts and down the gullet of an owl.

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I dream, and before me while I slumber soundlessly a paper hangs on the wall, and though I have never attended one of its performance-fights I know it more intimately than any audience member should.

coppermouth_logo.png

Art by UncertaintyCrossing

From across the world I call to you: Good night, Coppermouth Sunset. Good night, beloved Naga-killer who walks on daggers. Good night, my love who was shaped by these hands. Good night, and sweet dreams.

I hope you do not remember me.

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Crows soar overhead in starling-dense puddles, returning home. Through the grating of the ceiling I see them as the dappled leaves I had known as a child — in a city park a quarter of a block by a quarter of a block in size before it was crushed beneath the crumbling body of some great beast my parents loved and bought posters of like they were in college again. Not me, I had thought, but look at where I am now. My heart a thunderdrum in my chest, I creep into a brighter space. If one lives in a room of paintings, no matter how you live your life or how little you care for the visual arts, mere exposure alone will make you love what you see. That is how I — an engineer with a love fashioned for engine grease and bike chains and windup music boxes of delicate soul, a man of his own making through surgery and embroidery of body to make my flesh mine, a man who could be trusted to keep a secret by a company who makes beasts because I cared not for an industry my love-hate had been ground into a powder of tolerance for — came into the business of finding and dealing old kaiju parts.

Stalks of ripe grain, roots and leaves and all drift down the sewage canal miraculously untainted and unscathed by their journey like they are made of wax or oiled in silk of olivemilk to have the effluence of humanity simply bead off like that. I wade through: the tunnel has made contact with the low-floor sea, and this is a moonpool.

Moonpool. I stand in a wider space shuttered by orange sunlight. Though the sea is beneath, I am glad for alternative ways of breathing at the sight of the pool: olympic-sized and deep, because this is an opening to the sea and not a pool at all, murky black like a clearcut bayou rich in oil, saccharine-honey with lead and pewter.

Industrial espionage is easy. I let my bag thump to the floor and breathe. Breathe.

Turn around, one eye shut as I had been told — some occult nonsense, but fine, I’ll do it, who knows who might be watching — strap my bag to a handle on the floor to keep it from falling in when the structure rocks, and fall backwards—

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I dream of kaiju.

My wingspan is seven meters and my talons are wrapped in fine silver-steel alloy. I soar on thermals billowing from steam and gas refinery vents above the needle-spired coast of my home where my throat forever listens for a signal I cannot hear, calling me home. My name is Before the Sun, and I am free.

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—into the sea.

The subterranean desert that is the sea floor, packed down with concrete and dead kaiju too pounded down or heavy to lurch from the water and dump onto a cargo ship to be taken to the Americas, to Death Valley for boneyard processing and trashing they would go for expense after expense but that’s the law and it’s what needs to be done but no. Snowed in sludge and murky sediment, fertilizer runoff and radioactive dust from the last fallout — through it all I plummet for miles. Headfirst, imagining clean water rushing — but no, this is the staticky grey-black that sparks hits of white on my eyes when too large a particle or the slimy slap of a fish’s fin caresses my virgin eyes. Until at last the floor approaches.

Turn on the diver’s lantern, the redlight. Inhale.

No mask, no oxygen tanks. I am a diver by trade and an engineer by occupation and not all modifications to my body were from changing it to be the right way around. Mechanical slits crossing my ribs gape and swallow, rhythmic contractions seizing my lungs and frothing saliva edged in bioware grease yellow. That grease hangs from my lips like the Huang He into the Bohai. And I am below.

I bound-stride through the metal wastes, iron on my tongue and lead weights strapped to my ankles. I would swim but — this place is sacred. To me, at least. Full of what used to be and what should have been and what was long forgotten despite taking place but five months ago. Time flies, they say, but only as quickly as we decide to forget. Only as much as our attention is unhooked from the past and latched anew to the great bleeding lip of the present and near-future.

It’s also that staying at the bay floor keeps me hidden from the watchtowers.

Steady gillwater, blind sight, coagulated bloodlight of my diver’s lantern, and five minutes later: a sonar click. I read from my bracelet chips: Fish tide blocking sonar. Hook in 25 minutes. Be ready. And then a thumping putter strums down the pirate’s-flag water and a shadow deeper than that cast by the sediment eats the sky and swallows. Today’s employer’s boat, above me. Unregistered, I presume, but that isn’t my problem; what matters is that it blocks the city’s sight of me. I have made enough mistakes in my life now to require that my employers cover the wet market’s eye.

Off go my weights and shoes and the bulk of my shirt. Top surgery scars flexing in the mess of punctured eye that is the silted, worm-filled, rotten minnow-saturated nightwater, I writhe. Unfurl appendages that were called abominable five years after I had lain on an operating table with my arms spread and said make me myself as my last words before the anaesthesia tide washed me over. I shake myself into a shape unrecognizeable from a dragon breaking the confines of its egg, and fast and fleetingly beautiful where nobody can see me I swim toward the remains of the great kaiju serpent formerly known as Naga.

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With titans called Argentavis and Bloodscourge and Prometheus and Deadlock, my mind is filled with phantoms of who might be. I dream of kaiju. And I wonder while perching on city spires higher than the clouds with rooftops bristling with singular needle-spines for every building, black open-air skybridges like a fishing net thrown over the city below: what makes a titan a Titan?

There is no species for kaiju. No class and no clade. Taxonomy doesn’t apply and is a simplification anyway, and nothing we have could be classified in the end of it all. So: what makes a kaiju?

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I am here, and the remains of this season’s most recent victory match has a skull the size of a yacht and a body that glows with blackbody radiation. Air still bubbles from its decapitation fresh this morning. I approach.

Oh, Naga. The sea takes her toll.

When one looks at a boulder, one skips over the fine details. The hairline fractures, the lichen stains, the red spidermite silk-nests, the spider silk trails and bungee lines, the strata and the imprints of fossils worn until they are less imprints and more unremarkable grooves in the stone. The flecks of impurity, the scrapings from when the boulder was part of a glacier. All is unnoticed, overlooked, unless one is a lover of rocks.

That is what it is for me to look upon the irradiated whalefall that is Naga’s skull. Detritus worms acclimated to estuary waters, swarm the flesh, thronging for oxygen and feasting in alternating currents. Seastars — purple, orange, spiny-backed and smooth — caress Naga’s blackened, scarred, pockmarked lips beneath clouds of schooling fish blurry to my naked eyes. Juniper floods my mouth: my tongue bleeds in sympathy. Pockmarked flesh, mouthfuls chewed by canal-hardy minnow fleets too lead-poisoned for the boats to take. Scales, once fine black mirrors, dulled by passing sand in the water column, Naga’s biojacket of fiber-keratin scale-mail meant for scoring and goring in trials of combat, now destined to become marine snow: blackening the water it passes me in cool rivers of bioengineered waste made useful at last, laid to rest finally. Back to the ecosystem you go, dear Naga. Please do not mind as I climb you.

Because climb I do. The great dunes I had passed on my way were Naga’s folds, the pillars shorn metal casts impaled through her body by the kaiju who felled her. People are curious, and moreso now that she is dead: how did she burst heads as she did? None could replicate it, not even the parent company of the multibillion dollar feat of engineering that was her. Her deathsite where I tread now is cordoned off above the waves — for fish, they say, but we all know that isn’t true — and the boat above me is remote piloted so it could be allowed through; the gun turrets on shore shoot clean through the water after anything larger than a seal lest someone tamper with the corpses of giants before disposal. But nobody checks beneath a ship’s shadow, and nobody cares when something is dredged up, only that things must not be let down. All’s well for me. Until someone gets caught, that is, and I don’t plan to be the first.

It does not concern me, but there is a small sadistic hope in my chest as I summit the shadow before me that is Naga’s great forehead and pass surgical access cuts nearly bone-welded shut by osteoblasts — hope that I am the first to reach her for illicit scavenging. Companies will pay discreetly what amounts they feel are miniscule but which to an individual are indeed life-changing sums to off-contract workers whose work is to intercept kaiju corpses before they are broken down, stripped and burned of intellectual property: copyrighted genes, Madagascar-brand imprint neurosurgery, high tech smuggled inside one-season organics and finally thrown to the desert and left to rot. And an engineer with a diving certificate, a history of forging kaiju guts, and a hobby for wrong-side-of-legal scavenging is just the thing they like to see. And now, drifting up to the side of the great canyon valley serrations left by Coppermouth Sunset’s gorgeous — skyscraper-thin, barbed, adderfang injectors in the front and praying mantis raptorial legs all the way down, articulated dieselpunk snake segments like a sidewinder glinting brassy-gold against the Arizona sun, as fast on land as it was in water, Lockheed-Boeing’s masterwork said the papers on its first display and look where it is now, twenty grandmaster kaiju to its name and still running strong despite the grinding diesel fumes choking each audience it is laid before and that is part of the appeal—

Ah, I get ahead of myself. Beautiful, terrible Coppermouth Sunset. Beautiful, terrible summer 2239. Beautiful, terrible revelation as biological and mechanical kaiju alike underwent, five minutes before the fight, brand-new tests and checks for sabotage and illegal modifications.

Beautiful, terrible first punishment: a fight with a badly stitched and healed Naga — no kind treatment for cheaters — against IBM’s fresh-from-the-line Duroscrusus. Beautiful, terrible results. And then, the finale: beautiful, terrible rush-order kaiju, one of my own making. Mine. Mine. Against her.

Beautiful, terrible news that night. But not for me. And with that, I crawl back into myself, out of my history and shame and joy.

Swimming’s taken long enough. I am at the back of the head, a penthouse suite-sized Tyrannosaur skull, at the place where this thing that made Naga Naga once connected to gills and spine. A gaping hole here looms before me, teeming with feathery ribbon-strips of blood-sucked kaiju meat. Like sea pens they wave, and in the red of my diver’s lantern their shadows flicker akin to dapplings found at the bottom of the pool, luring into the once so tightly guarded passage. One hand unconsciously presses against the back of my own skull, and there I find the divot EEG technicians use to divide the scalp in two, right beneath the occipital: that is what I am before now, but so much larger, on a kaiju. And still here, because we must take inspiration for something as a species. Larger, this is, and so much more beautiful, in a way: Naga’s scales drift like fish mess in the flood of a clogged sink in the dark beneath a headlamp, glinting like mirrors half-translucent and unseen in the cloaking shadow of the silent boat above. Like fireflies in the dusk, or orange lanterns in the sky at midnight, or a fireworks show of cracklers and streamers. I draw close with a twitch of my fins, watching the flesh-feathers flatten in the microcurrent of me.

Hunch my shoulders, grip the squishy meat inside the borehole of the spine, get leverage against the meat-slicked bone.

Breathe, suffer a bout of deja-vu linked to that this is what I did with the sea-pipes this morning, and convulse then settle as kaiju blood filters through the gills on my ribs.

Into the brain housing I go.

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I dream of the present.

Somewhere in Madagascar: A tooth-gouged convoy rolls through a suburbia still smoking of fresh drywall sealant. Residents go inside not out of fear, but obligation. I had been there once, as part of a business trip not quite legal and not quite on the books. Nobody knew my name, much less myself, and I placed dried leaves on my windowsill each night during my stay and left the sniperglass blinds open to let the moths in, so they might settle upon my skin during my daytime waking dreams. During that trip was the rush order, and during that trip I was brought to kaiju in repair and kaiju in making and kaiju in wilding and kaiju in feasting, and I was told their names. I said things on that trip, some brave and some foolish and some terribly clever that would wreck industries or scour companies. In Madagascar I ate nothing, but one must drink to survive; ergo, I cannot remember the names or faces or designs of those kaiju now; this does not disturb me because in my profession sporadic near-surgical blots of empty days remembered after a business trip are considered normal.

Meanwhile, in this sea where I watch from eyes that are not my own: A diver enters the undrained slurry cholesterol strands of brain from a creature larger than any Earth animal from before the twenty-second century. This diver is six-limbed and has shed their skin twice, and will shed their skin once more before they rise. Their aspects are that of the crow and the moth, and they have never touched either in this country because insecticide is widespread in the water and crows have learned not to land in the UV district from where this diver hails lest they be shot by anti-drone lasers and turrets, ostensibly protecting the fishing sea from undue harvest.

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I am inside.

There is a certain soreness of the muscles one gets when they aren’t sore yet but will be, much like Prometheus in the morning. It comes with a weakness that pervades through the day, not attributable to lack of strength or skill but to damage unseen, a movement without moving in chess that has damaged the rest of the play. That sensation is also found in poison, in lack of oxygen, in altitude sickness and sleep deprivation, and that venomous sensation that is that courses through my whole body as I behold the stolen, illegal, biostabilizing incubator that is the brain of the illegal kaiju unit Naga. My prize and my glory, my rent and my utilities, my groceries and my taxes.

Perhaps it is poison. Perhaps it is a lack of oxygen in the water. Perhaps it is a failure in my circulating gills, or perhaps the brain matter of the kaiju gunked my gills enough that I am unknowingly struggling to breathe. Whatever the case, my vision swims malachite green and jaundice yellow, and a queasiness shudders my neck and diaphragm. I draw close to the brain-cradle, peer inside.

It is dark. My redlight is on. And in front of me is…

Coppermouth Sunset gleams sterling copper and rusty iron, the solid slab of Nevada sun slams into its skin and the ghost of that sun warms my coat through the screen, and even the diluted glory I have here drew blood like Mjolnir’s blows to a mere anvil, for I am no giant and was less myself than I am now. The television sings, and I drift deeper into my delusion.

“It was almost peaceful when they cut the flesh they had shorn before,” the man on the announcer’s podium said. His sockets held lanterns blazing brighter than lighthouses. His voice was a foghorn through the security guards ushering him off the stage, audible over all else, and he continued, “The higher I rise the more I see, and tonight the stars are beneath me. Kaiju are no more than what we think of them. Why not imagine life as a story? Perception is the truth for all. The client’s beliefs and perceptions are always true because that is how they experience them. Is boredom really so superior to naive joy, or can we make naive joy a choice done in scorn of drudgery? You only live but once. Remember me!”

And then he was gone.

My body floats. My mind does not.

In front of me is…

A dappled sensation. Moths in moonlight, the moon in mothlight, scaled wings brushing my face and skin, leaving powder there that tingles, itches, burns. I float beneath the waves in a cacophony of insects beneath the sterling moon and my flesh ebbs where they have touched me, recessed scarring and then skin not there at all. My skin is too tight; I, dancer-like, tug where it is loosest and strip down from my clothing that I have worn since the day of my birth, bloom red in a gentle ripping like a satsuma or grapefruit or pomegranate peel. Freed from the skin that was my chrysalis, I extend wings and arms and arms and arms not my own, orient my head skyward through Naga’s extant plaintive struggles, and rocket-plummet-careen towards a dark planet above the sky where the woods are cedar and the hunting is good and the moon is always full.

In front of me is…

An abstract photograph. Mechanic’s nightmare. A favourite plushie. A verdant garden plant flush with fruit. A bramble bush. An orb spider’s web. A company’s past profits. A severed head. Hair drifting in an autumn breeze. A coiled rope. A spring. A five year old’s painting. The corpse of a hurricane. Punctured willow trees. Lightning captured in sand. An insatiable sensation. A hungry crevice. An animal. Something spewing toxins into the water out of fear. Something I am breathing the breath of. Something I should back away from but which my limbs are paralyzed in the exhalations of. Something I should never have come near. Something I consider a misstep. Something.

A something. It moves and my vision is engulfed.

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I dream of kaiju.

My fangs are longer than my fangs and have holes drilled in the front so I can spit caustic venom like the cobra I was designed after. My body is armoured in copper plates and my legs are those of a mantis, barbed with the stumps of elephant’s tusks in a gaudy display of antiquity and wealth, though I do not know what those are. When my legs are gone — ripped out by competition, shorn by slicing blades of my opponent, crushed beneath the body of a fellow serpent who must die — and my plating splits, beneath there is undulating black optic mesh swaddled in carbon fibre muscle-skin like the kind they put over the arms and legs of seniors who cannot lift themselves (though those I have never met) but so much larger as to be titanic. And that is what I am: a titan. My name is Coppermouth Sunset, and I am here to stay.

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I drift. In front of me is…

A nonsense of limbs and teeth; an orbweaver’s net of dermal EMG pins and EEG wires; a catastrophe of finely ground glass churning into a thick void of waterborne smoke and toxins and acid, bleeding out from the thing that isn’t. My hands shudder. The umbilical linking its nape to the thick artery above is withered and dark as the bottled sunset on my belt, and the body curls in sleepy circles with no current to push it.

There aren’t many things a business will refuse to do to stay ahead, and even less if they can hide it long enough to make a profit. And for those working under that business, even temporarily, they take innocence for any crimes they may commit, as the company is the bearer of my sorrow and not me. If an animal is what I must take to the boat above for my pay, then so be it.

I am wary with my fingers, not wishing to be bitten, breathing water and keeping it out to remain neutrally buoyant in the uncurrent of Naga’s skull; hands of a surgeon, not an engineer — but I need not have. This animal is dead. Or perhaps just sleeping very, very soundly.

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I dream of kaiju. And kaiju dream of me when they are cut down to sleep that sleep that ends not in waking.

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It wakes.

It is alive. And it moves in my arms like a snake, and I know for certain now: this is no crocodile.

I am here, where thoughts once were. And I recall.

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I dream of the past.

I sat in a business meeting of suits with my diving gear on over sweltering skin, fresh from the draw-up of what I had raised for this company, wet hair still drying, oilslicks on my skin blazing torchlike in the autumn sun. I had a pass, but no nametag. I had an invitation, but no stated reason why. I had an escort, but not one I knew. I was present at this demonstration to retain and renew my loyalty, and nothing more.

I had had no loyalty until this.

“It is an open secret that wrestling is staged,” the presenter said. She had no nametag either. I wondered if she was a guest like me, or if she was so important that she needed no introduction. “Wrestling is staged, and the people know. So too do they know that kaiju of the arena are never made perfect. Like the lightbulb’s maximum hours, but for an entirely different reason.”

“Once upon a time, project leaders, engineers, and programmers together perfected — we perfected — the fighting kaiju template. This was at the beginning of arena kaiju combat, and shortly after their standardization of use on the battlefield, and before animal-modelled kaiju – biological and robotic – saw use in the arena.”

She took a sip of violet sparkling water. It coated her lips, clung there.

“When our war-modelled kaiju were announced to the arena bracket, and after we leaked their records and statistics, we were speculated to be as the atomic bomb was to warfare. Bomb class: Special. Kaiju class: Victory.

I watched her pace. She paused, and as her gaze swept the room the lights seemed to dim. A hand in the back, thin and pale, raised, and I watched without needing to move as she ignored it.

“Our perfected kaiju models came out together in a single season. And they were indeed perfect. They could not be hurt save for by each other, and they could not die save for being torn part by part until each piece could not move. Insider knowledge as it was, of course companies stole from each other, and rightly so.” Her voice rose, impassioned; she leant over the table. “Trillions of dollars poured into these kaiju, each corporation wondering how things would play out, anticipating and hedging bets, wondering if kaiju arena combat was coming to an end as soon as it had begun. Spectators flooded the stands days early, posts and articles wondered what new enterprise would be revitalized after this final showdown of money and power. No further progress could be made on these kaiju — they were perfect killing machines, all showmanship and sporting drawn away for the cause of victory. Like the death of online video games so long ago, after addiction routines were exacted and a deluge of content was made before the burnout. It was a final golden age. CEOs — some of you were there, and you will remember. CEOs wondered, eggs in one basket, sitting in plush office chairs that overlooked their domains: What now? War again? Advertising psychology again?

“All fields long stamped dry, brought to template and perfection as these new kaiju were.”

She stepped back from the table. Flipped the slide. I hadn’t noticed, and didn’t watch, the new set of statistics, documents, references on the board. The projector droned and she spoke on.

“Our — your — wartime kaiju lasted a single season. And during that season, global GDP dropped, economies tripped and faceplanted in mud and bones, corporate bets and illicit insider trading circles fell like cobwebs. The next year, we all pretended that that had never happened, and we decided new rules for kaiju creation. Agreed upon them the way your subsidiaries agree not to frack each other’s holdings.”

The hand was still raised. Silky smooth. Tattoo on the back, a circle crossed by a line. Nolla. Lockheed-Boeing. The presenter pointed at it, and the lights in the room dimmed further. “Speak,” she said, and her voice was entirely different from the voice she had had when presenting. There was no passion here.

“Why?” the hand’s owner asked.

Her teeth were very white. “Because during that season, kaiju were not kaiju.”

The slide flipped. She had prepared for this.

“Your kaiju were computer controlled entirely, programming washed free of all the wiggly strands that made them act like competitors instead of machines with weapons bolted on. Tanks are boring to watch unless there are people controlling them — similarly, these kaiju were dull, and that is what killed your sport. You brought me here to tell you why you should not advance, and here I am now, your best pilot in generations. You mean to use my profession against my arguments, but my bias has nothing to do with the facts.

“Listen. Matches went nearly unattended after the first bouts, merchandise went unsold on store shelves, the nearby hotels felt the air of death in their halls after tourists cancelled, not unlike that of a stranded boat after the sailors jump ship. Local businesses, renovated and pre-stocked, in debt to their ears on the anticipation of the customary customer flood, went bankrupt and died.”

The hand raised, and with it, the room brightened and the air tightened against its skin. “Why?”

Her voice flattened. “Because the kaiju shot at each other with perfect aim from standstill. Your kaiju extended telescoping poles from welded-attached parts unbelonging on their body plans to poke holes in each other. Your kaiju were modelled like modern housing, all hard angles and flat faces, sacrificing recognizability for increased weapons capacity and armour density. Your kaiju sat on the arena floor slick with grease huge and unbecoming like tanks without treads and pummelled each other with weapon after weapon, one time simply laser against laser, waiting until one did not fall—

“did not rupture, did not writhe and scream, did not spurt engine grease or fuel-blood, did not utter terrifying simulated roars and give a final flurry of vicious attacks that hurt it as much as it did its opponent in its death throes—

“but simply stopped moving. Flickered and failed, as eventful as a bluescreening computer whose hard drive is too scratched to start again. A victory gained with barely the passing notice to where it was or what it was doing.”

Her flesh rippled. The hand was not up. The room temperature remained the same.

“Any kaiju from before with life in their metal bones — that had a discernible head and eyes, that jittered and swept their tails, that recoiled when attacked as though feeling pain in their reactive-composite plating, that acted like beasts… did not fare against these new tank-kaiju the size and shape of a slab of concrete poured into a mould over a city block. The animal kaiju robots cowered in a way that we had programmed other kaiju robots to react to and nothing happened differently to that and they died. The perfected war-arena kaiju were victorious, but victorious as a checked box on a form.

“These kaiju lasted a single season not because of their lack of success — they were designed with success as the firefront, they could not and did not fail — but because audiences despised them. Called them the failings of industry, blamed the companies. Boycotts did nothing, of course, but the kicker was the lack of money. Had the new kaiju made a single modicum of financial success, a wisp-particle in the sunlight of possible economic endeavours, they would have stayed. But they did not. These kaiju had no sportsmanship, no personality, no instinctive animal rage, and ultimately they were forgettable, and for multibillion dollar machines built for a single event in the year, that is the true deathblow to success.”

Almost as an afterthought, she said, “I am a history-keeper, and that is the tale I was told.”

“What happened to them?” asked the hand.

“They were dismantled.” And then, back in the storytelling tone I had learned to recognize, she said, “A yachtborne meeting was made of CEOs and designers atop the floating island once known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and now known as New Florida. And while the governing bodies of the world turned a blind eye, the industry leaders agreed over wild-caught swordfish steak, salmon roe sushi, and last-of-its-kind wine: though wartime kaiju may be made to serve as they did that season, no more kaiju of their breed were to be used in the arenas.

“Your people decided that all kaiju must have an animal for a brain. You must abide by that, no matter how little you like it.

“It’s your decision how you will make that happen.”

✧⠀⠀⠀✦⠀⠀⠀✧

Naga writhes in my arms. And then, after a brief struggle, it is gone.

✧⠀⠀⠀✦⠀⠀⠀✧

I dream of something.

I was born with six limbs and 20/2 vision. My cries were eerie and frail, I am told, and the mechanics were afraid I would die of hypoxia because I would not stop screaming.

Five years after my birth, modification was outlawed from pushes at the right time to the right people by purists. Seven years after my birth, I finished trade school, moved to a place with no rent and one housemate. Four years after that and two operations later — one to correct what had been wrong and one to let me fill a niche this city tried its best to prohibit — I learned to loathe the name Osprey.

As I specialized my trade, I learned not just to watch the news, but how to.

When a biological kaiju is delivered from a mother rhino’s gestation holdings to grow three times larger in the course of two weeks, which underwent gene therapy when it was still a zygote (not unlike so many babies whose parents want green eyes or freckles or strong muscles or air-light bones), which would be outfitted with cybernetics and barium blood and fuel canisters that work in tandem with the heart (not unlike those whose lives mean a the premature deterioration of flesh requiring mechanics to fix) — when all that is said and done, what makes it so different from an animal? And if it is smart, as arena kaiju must be if they are to last, what makes them so different from overlarge people?

Is it hate? Is it loathing? Is it an arbitrary line drawn between faiths of personhood and antipersonhood, not unlike those drawn by playground children in the woodchips to divide teams or ground? If I were five times my size and had my face jumbled until I no longer registered as a fellow person, would I be chained to a stake in a pit in Australia and given drugs to fill me with rage, called small for my size but the best kaiju of the season? Or would I be put down, called fodder for another kaiju — perhaps my beloved Coppermouth Sunset — for being too human, that audiences might find distaste in the blood-sport we have all learned to glory in? Would I be relished, or would I be forgotten?

✧⠀⠀⠀✦⠀⠀⠀✧

Below my employer’s boat I rise, hooked to the end of a long chain on a winch, through water increasingly obscure through clouds of sediment and gently marine-raining oil globs. The weather must have changed while I was down — it’s that vertiginous feeling, like when one exits a movie theatre and it is dark when it was bright before, that tangles me now, hardens my gills to glass and turns my hawk’s eyes soft and gelatinous. I am between two currents, and my body spins slowly, gracefully, like a top or a firestick between two hands, spun earnestly in hope of catching heat and light and blaze in the middle of white mountain’s blizzard or snow atop the ice inches thin obscuring a shark-toothed crater lake. Don’t light the flame, or you’ll melt straight through.

I exhale, and globs of creamy yellow-white pus streaked with red eject from my gills. The toxins of a kaiju — Naga was famous for this — are occasionally drunk straight, hallucinogen-loaded as they often are to intoxicate other kaiju should they bite down and succumb to bestial instincts in the arena. A last resort within the arena and something to advertise on without: drink your favourite kaiju’s blood today, become one with them, or something to that account. I am not familiar with the advertisements then nor now, but I am now familiar with the sensation. Like psilocin therapy and ethanol, or LSD and crack. I assume.

The water is a window without eyes. Underneath, I peer into the world from behind the cornea of the Underworld: greens and blues and yellows and teals, no fish to obscure the closer-ever sun. In my arms, I find, is a tightly tucked bundle of wires and mechanical parts and ungreased computer chips. In my arms, I find, is both Naga and not Naga. In my arms, I find, is whatever I had found in the brain cavity. Not gone. Didn’t swim away. Or maybe it did, and this is what remains. A parting gift, perhaps, left like the crinkly sparkly lightweight things on your doorstep by a murder fed.

The surface. It approaches like a broken mirror — one punched from the other side. I grip tightly the bundle, and with a lurch and a shudder and a grating clank and a vertigo-inducing wind-knocking thump, I — all of me, and all of I, wings and arms and legs and gills and still-healing pectoral-scars and alligator-eyes and all, myself and the kaiju and all — are hauled aboard into the freezing air and baking sun and mercifully scorching platter of bone-white nubbly boat deck.

I sit up, vomit seawater from my lungs and gills, wipe my eyes and teeth, shake out my clothing. Lie on my side, watch the puddle spread. Clutch the kaiju-part, kaiju-brain, kaiju-soul in my arms like a peregrine to an egg. And wait, folding extra appendages beneath the bulk of my swim-cloak and closing my gills against the dry heat of summer, for my employer, whose boat comes at that thought not a minute later, rumbling up to the side of this fishing vessel of mine-theirs.

Head still reeling from toxins, I am hauled to my feet or perhaps haul myself to my feet with some leftover drops of dignity. My commissioner — the corporation — has tethered their boat to this one, and they come aboard now that we have drifted outside the protected fishing zone so full of kaiju toxins, oil, and factory runoff. Three-headed fish place that is, and I shake my head in weary dreary malaise until I catch myself with my ears still reeling and stand up straight. Focus my eyes upon the speaker, who is crouching now to be at eye level with me. But all I can see is their hand, silky smooth, tattoo on the back, a circle crossed by a line — Lockheed-Boeing, the company whose motto is Future Together and whose practices are Why- and with the end cut off being not.Why not? — who asked the best pilot in her generation why they shouldn’t reintroduce war kaiju into the arena. And when rebuked, asked an illicit freelance diver to dredge the soul of a kaiju to grant the souls sent the way of the kaiju company.

Each segment of a centipede — or a Coppermouth fashioned after one — ought to have its own brain, they said after the meeting. And they were right.

The hand extends towards the kaiju-brain-egg-heart-soul. Somewhere, I recall that it swam away, that this is hollow. Nothing inside, no remains. But even a shell would be pain. Imagine if your limbs each controlled themselves, save for one which was dead weight and nothing more. Would you prefer a limb with a mind, or nothing at all?

I sway. Coppermouth Sunset, I sacrifice much for you. But I would not damn you to a life where you are weakened. I will do as much as I can from where I am, no matter what. Freelance my ass — I haven’t been away from this company in years. Love you, Coppermouth. You know what they do with rogue freelancers, don’t you? Turn them into engineers.

I’ve always been yours. See you soon.

I look up, tense, and in the dazzling sun I turn on my heel away from the questing, gently asking hand that holds the leash to my freedom-like life in Macau, a job a month for Lockheed in exchange for living comfortably with nobody over my shoulder, and throw the kaiju heart off the deck—

—and back in the water.

✧⠀⠀⠀✦⠀⠀⠀✧

I dream, but not much more. For the rest of the night, my visions hold no more power — are no curtain to the forge of my heart. A great image encompasses me — one I had loved while it was dead, and hated when it came alive. Now all that is left is an old familiar loathing — an old bruise prodded, an old love’s number kept on the cell, a hated but knowledgeable professor’s name in the mind.

Hello, Coppermouth Sunset.

coppermouthsunset_v1.png

Art by UncertaintyCrossing

Through the dream, I know that the sun soon rises. When I wake, I will go down to the beach and fulfill a commission — if it can be called a commission — of hand-dredging a kaiju’s brain from the deep. Long away from the engineering dry-docks I suspect I will return to soon, I still work on Coppermouth, and I relent to that work the same way one relents to breathing. But that is for when I wake. Now, within, I recall words, or perhaps make them anew. My daily-morning prayer to that which still is, despite all that has happened and all that will.

Good morning, Coppermouth Sunset. May you live but briefly today.” A breath, a memory. “I know it hurts. Hang in there, and know this: I am so sorry.”

I hope it can hear me. And somewhere, perhaps from myself, I hear a response.

”Hello, engineer-of-my-heart. Do not worry over me. I am myself, and feel my suffering the same way I felt my skin and breath in my lungs and prickles of sunlight in my eyes when I was born from human in a hospital far from here. I wish circumstances were different. I love you too”

It’s the last part that tells me that this is no message, only my desperate wishes for resolution. Let all become void, I tell myself. Tomorrow awaits.

And with that, I dream no more.

Wawawawawawawawa. Better late than never! Went into a dreamlike fugue state during the crunch for writing an ending. Is stupid hot right now, heat wave, and didn't get enough sleep. Think I might have caught a sickness, too. Small but present in the head and lack of appetite. Wa.

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