How Borne Was Born: Excerpt

Weekdays are for Predator, weekends are for “Borne”. Another (rough) excerpt after the cut.

In the old days, before the Company terminated him, Wick created an enormous learning fish, something a bit like a huge bass. Whenever Wick talked about it, he became more animated, dropped his guard, and I could see him experiencing a vision of this fish as if it were a manifestation of a miracle.

On those rare yet blissful times after a hard rain when I had found a stray alcohol minnow or two in the run-off from the Company, newly hatched from long dormancy in the dust, we would pull up old, beat-up lawn chairs on the roof and slurp them down while Wick told me stories of the fish.

Alcohol always made Wick relaxed and artificially happy, and although the fish had led to unhappiness, memories of the creature filled him with a blissful nostalgia.

“You should have seen it, Rachel,” Wick would say, looking up at the twilight sky and the burgeoning field of stars. “A tank of a fish. A battleship of a fish. With a wide and mournful mouth. I made it like a bass because I loved the droop of that mouth–like you see in certain kinds of dogs. It was beautiful and ugly and it moved like a juggernaut. On land, no less. It could breathe air! I loved that part. I gave it great eyes, too: veined with emerald and gold. Well, until they put a human face on it, at least.”

This fish prototype with the human face had walked on its dorsal fins through the deepest, widest caverns of the Company building until something terrible had happened to it. After the first time he told the story, Wick never mentioned the horrible fate of the fish–“Scarskirt, the new employee, killed with one of her knives; carved the face off and showed it to me through a camera embedded in one of my spy beetles”–but he continued to reminiscence about the fish itself–relaying the intricacies of its design, the graceful lumbering of its gait, which, as Wick described it, reminded me oddly of Mord.

Mord’s role in the creation of the fish and its demise remained unclear to me in Wick’s stories. He’d say things like “Mord knew I was right about the fish” or “Mord was too far gone by then to care about anyone but himself.”

I didn’t know if Wick was living in the past, or if he wanted to keep the fish fresh in his head so that one day he might re-create it, although I think we both knew that it was unlikely without Company protection that either of us would live that long. But I the fish came to mind after Wick left that first morning after being unable to tell me the true nature of what I’d found. What if the creature was another project like the fish? That would mean it had associated with it a whole web of associations and alliances and possible meanings.

And the truth that Wick conveniently left out of most of his memories was that the fish’s purpose had been to devour children whole in some far-off land, repurpose them, and spit them out again. (School children. That somewhere there was order enough and discipline enough and infrastructure enough for schools and school days and tardiness and detention and uniforms mystified me.)

But I didn’t think Wick cared about purpose so much as form, to be honest. In my darker moments, when I seemed to recognize my attraction to Wick as just an antidote for mind-killing loneliness, I saw that he could if so desired create a weapon so deadly that not even its beauty could justify its impact…and that Wick might not be upset about this. Form so often seemed to morph into function for him, perhaps because beauty was so rare in our world that he valued it too highly.

Mostly I bring this up because Wick would say about the fish, “I had borne it and then it was born.” It almost sounded like he was quoting someone else. Mord? This Scarskirt he kept alluding to?

Looking at the thing I had found, that phrase kept popping into my head, and so I called it “Borne” from that first morning forward. I had to call it something, and could not yet know whether it would be burden, curse, or something infinitely more complex.


  1. Felix Gilman says

    In my religion Sunday is the Predator’s Day.

    But it suppose it takes all sorts to make the world go round.