You know they named the moon missions after me? They always thought I was stupid, my actions a folly, my very hands the source of naïveté. But, my arms are both metal and moonlight. My lips both digital sensors and a cool nothingness pursed in feigned surprise. The robotic appendages that sweep through the lunar regolith, picking up fine specimens of moonrock are powered by the same wispy arms that opened up the cap of that bottle, held the porcelain to my lips and let the cool elixir flow down my throat. You think it was rashness, serendipity or (and I must smile at this) lunacy that I consumed that cool drink? Well, think again. I always hid my craftiness in the pit of my stomach, never letting it shine in my eyes or on the side of upturned lips. No smiles, no knowing looks.
How do the stories start? They start of course with men of power. The emperor. Was he malevolent or was he benevolent? Let me tell you a secret: It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that he was a he and he sat on a throne. He was in charge, his hips securely stuffed into that seat of control, so he gets to be rattled off first. Jade Emperor, Ruler of Heaven, blah blah. That one. Of course, who could forget? You can gasp, call it sacrilege, but I’m a goddess and my seat sits on the very face of that white ball above you, looking down on everyone shining everlasting moonlight, so let’s see anyone complain. Lest I raised up the tides and swallow them up. (I wouldn’t do that of course, but try me if you’d like a demonstration.)
The Jade Emperor—well, his ten sons were rascals. Let’s just put that out there. And c’mon, you know they got that DNA from somewhere. Out causing havoc, planting their radiant selves in the sky. I’m sure the Jade Emperor had his fair share of rowdy antics when he was a teen. I’m sure he looked at his ten suns that rained fire and fury and thought, “Ah, well, let boys be boys.” I mean, sure, wouldn’t it be hilarious if they scorched Earth to a crisp and nothing could ever be planted? That all would wither, become desiccated and perish? Oh, a fine hoax indeed. And the emperor, let me tell you, he couldn’t even discipline them. Had to call in Houyi. Though honestly, the Jade Emperor would be better served with a firmer grasp of his near-dozen kids and an ability to issue some time outs or something. Call it parent-blaming if you want, but there’s something to be said about exercising your supreme augustness and your utmost importance in managing your kin—those of your own direct begetting.
Let’s get right down to the patriarchal storytelling, shall we? First him, the Jade Emperor, of course, since he presides over it all. Then Houyi. Ah, Houyi. My husband. Or rather, I’m his wife, as they say. He always came next in the tale of my being. Try to start any anecdote of me and it would always be, “Chang’e. She was the wife of Houyi. Of course, I’m fibbing a bit. My name would never come up first (as pleased I might be if it did). It would always start with the Jade Emperor, but we went through that already.
Houyi wasn’t a bad man. Empathetic kind of guy. Wasn’t too happy about the Earth dying. But, let’s say this. If it weren’t a challenge, he would’ve left it alone. There’s something about a test of merit that makes him tick. Something in him that cries out, “Oh, now, this is something worth doing.” So, yes, of course, he cared about the people of Earth and the subjects of the Great Jade Emperor, but even more so, he liked to show off his marksmanship skills, make himself known far and wide for his archery. He liked the way when he stretched his arms, his bicep and tricep muscles the size of hills would fill the eyes of every longing gazer. He’d let them settle these ardent glances onto his physical self, let them admire his prowess and he would release the arrow with this huge grin on his lips, his eyes lighted up in savoring his own mastery and indulging in the impressive glances of others.
I’d never see the same longing for me.
Sure, he was nice enough, he provided all that he needed to provide, but what gave him electric charge was this confrontation with difficulty, an adversity that required conquering—and after he shot with precision the nine suns, he left one. Not to give Earth light and all, as they say. But, because he knew that if he shot that tenth sun, he would have nothing to aim for. As long as he had that sun, he could look at it and see himself glorified—it provided that leer of mockery that he insisted upon to continue living, a challenge that he augmented in his head and I know that one day he might still shoot it down if it so beckons him.
Why do you think he went and got the elixir of immortality? You think it was from modesty? He had that urge in him. He knew he was unusually skilled enough to deserve living and living and living, ad infinitum, and, yes, I goaded him on a bit. He liked me enough. Wanted to share eternity with me. In his arrangements, we would both acquire everlasting life. That sounded good enough, but I’ll admit, there was a part of me that was a bit taken by something a step up—the idea of becoming an immortal.
An immortal. There’s a nice ring to that. It’s not like I set forth to become an immortal. Yes, I liked the thrill of the chase. Houyi had his archery and his ten suns. What did I have?
Let me tell you something.
Shh, lean in close so I whisper in your ears, let my silky voice tickle your lobes.
I contacted Queen Mother of the West, supplier of the elixir. We talked a bit. We had our underground connections. She gave me another pill that would make Fengmeng, apprentice of Houyi, frenzied. I placed the contents within in his food one evening, under Queen Mama’s directions. Fengmeng, well, he became a wild thing. Absolute feral, it was so amusing to watch. He ransacked the house, even executed a few attempts on my husband, which wasn’t my intention, but well, it happened. I thwarted these attempts with the help of Houyi, but no one talks about that. My rock slinging and precision targeting. (No one really talks about my strong arm and I keep it that way, hidden underneath layers of flowing silk.)
Fengmeng was again in one of his drug-induced rampages which I encouraged when I took the elixir. The severity of his reaction to the high dose and the nature of the distraction gave me my chance. I gave him a few more spoonfuls of the intoxicating powder earlier that evening and, as any good puppet, he became delusional. Eventually, I threw some pillows around, knocked over some vases, made a pattern of shards on the ground (if only people later read that hidden message that said it was all me). He was incensed and encouraged by my actions. He shot wayward arrows in his delirium (making the situation really off give him that signature “It was me, Fengmeng” look) and knocked over some things of his own, making his case for me. And as he lay, worn down from his great battle against the household items, I pulled my lips towards the lips of that vital vial. Ceramic and organic—our lips met and I could hear the stars singing in my ears.
I stood looking at Fengmeng, his body slumped over the bed, after he knocked over everything, after he had torn up the house in a fitful rage (and he would, it was completely believable) and I downed that thing.
The first thing I noticed was a change in my hair.
Locks of my black hair lifted up, defying gravity, turning into wisps of fiery light. My toes came off the ground. I became hollow, ethereal as light. It felt like being pulled up in a palanquin, but with even more grace. I felt like a soaring petal blossom, light and airy, swinging in the wind. I rose up, shedding scalp flakes, shedding skin. A feeling tickled within, an effervescence that seemed to be turning my body into air from the inside out while coatings of my being peeled off from outside in. I lost layers of myself but gained something that surged within me—it made me giddy with a sense of knowing. What did I know? Oh, I knew many things then. The world spinning, the ants on the ground fumbling for joy, the comings and goings of days turned to years. I knew that it had all come to be as it was supposed to. The nine sons dead, the one woman rising—an impeccable one-to-one ratio, sun to moon, moon to sun, perfectly crafted.
And from then on, every time the lips of a human on Earth pull over the doughy skin of a red date and lotus seed mooncake and bite into its sweet flesh and rich yellow yolk within, I feel their kiss brush against my skin. I feel their lips of adulation, that look up to my illuminated self and I brush aside the wisps of my hair, turned soft regolith. I smile down on them. I encourage them, my worshipping subjects, to send up gifts. Strong, steely gifts. The rovers that have become me, their wheels exploring my voluptuous body, massaging me. I incorporate them into my being.
And I shine such cool light, nothing that burns, nothing that wreaks havoc, nothing like the ten suns. See my benevolence, how it gently laps at boats in the wide sea in the midst of the night? See how I pour my being onto forests in the evening and cast refreshing white rays of celestial light? Beams of pure alabaster, glinting like the smooth surface of ivory?
One day you will send me lunar colonies and those glass domes will become my pores, gentle features on my skin that will comprise me as part of my bright, everlasting domain. You will come to me and meld with me and worship me not from afar, but incorporated into me, as a vital part of my incorporeal, divine being.
I remain here, locked to your glances and I linger knowing that day will come. In the meantime, I’ll continue to cast this sublime light upon you, so as to remind you of your tenuous position on Earth and the call of the future that awaits on my sublime, luminescent skin.
D.A. Xiaolin Spires steps into portals and reappears in sites such as Hawai’i, NY, various parts of Asia and elsewhere, with her keyboard appendage attached. Her work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as Clarkesworld, Analog, Strange Horizons, Nature, Terraform, Grievous Angel, Fireside, Galaxy’s Edge, StarShipSofa, Andromeda Spaceways (Year’s Best Issue), Diabolical Plots, Factor Four, Pantheon, Outlook Springs, ROBOT DINOSAURS, Mithila Review, LONTAR, Reckoning, Issues in Earth Science, Liminality, Star*Line, Polu Texni, Argot, Eye to the Telescope, Liquid Imagination, Little Blue Marble, Story Seed Vault, and anthologies of the strange and beautiful: Ride the Star Wind, Sharp and Sugar Tooth, Future Visions, Deep Signal, Battling in All Her Finery, and Broad Knowledge. She can be found on her website daxiaolinspires.wordpress.com and on Twitter @spireswriter.