art by Shot Hot Design
Our Drunken Tjeng
by Nicky Drayden
***Editor's Note: Be forewarned: the imagery may be unsettling, some language would not fit at an elegant tea.***
With a fine bone knife I make my incision, cutting back the sticky membrane of Our Tjeng's hull. I slip my hand inside and carefully widen the tear until it's big enough for me to step through. Our Tjeng has blessed Kae and me with gills to breathe within his walls. The viscous liquid is clear and burns my eyes, tart and slick on my tongue.
He's drunk as always, Our Tjeng, our fathership. And yet he leads our flock across the stars. Him and his bulging, sick liver--big as a hundred men, and it shouldn't even be half that size. I swim towards Kae as she shaves tumor from flesh a slice at a time. Her firm muscles tense and flex beneath her hairless, pink skin. She cusses Our Tjeng, her words crisp even through the liquid.
I touch her shoulder. She startles.
"Your time is up," I tell her.
We're civil. There's too much at stake not to be. The flock cannot afford to lose another fathership, and Our Tjeng needs us caretakers to keep him functioning.
"Let me work beside you," she pleads. "There's plenty of tumor for the both of us."
I ignore her and set out my net to hold the hard, white tumor cuttings. Her own net already brims. An impressive haul for the day. With a haul like that, people will start noticing.
"It's my shift. You need your rest," I say.
"I feel fine." Kae smiles at me, fatty pieces of pink liver stuck between her teeth.