The West
August 31, 2017
6:38 PM

Sometimes Aaron would disappear back to Tearis to find food. When he was gone, Mod contemplated running to earth. She could wear a disguise, and at a distance, no one would notice that there was anything different about her – that was what she hoped, anyway. She wished that Jeka had polished his mirror a little harder.

Mod couldn’t bring herself to try to climb up the cliffs surrounding the camp. Aaron made it look easy – he’d been spending more and more time up on the ledge lately, leaving Mod by herself down in Jeka’s hut. She couldn’t blame him for avoiding her.

The last few times Aaron had gone up, Mod had watched Aaron’s hands move as he climbed. It wasn’t that he was finding crevices in the rocks to grab hold of – his hands shook, fingers stiff and ridged, beating against the rock rapidly, each claw chiseling its way into the cliff like the beak of a woodpecker, leaving a trail of little holes behind him as he climbed.

One day, Mod pressed a hand against the side of the cliff, trying to get her hands to move the way Aaron’s did. Pressing firmly didn’t seem to do anything. It wasn’t until she took a swipe at the wall in frustration that her entire forearm seemed to buzz, and a piece of rock fell to her feet. Mod picked up the piece of fallen rock and stuffed it in her pocket as a trophy.

The next day, Mod went back to the cliff side and tried again. She was finally able to climb about a foot off the ground just with her hands. She realized she could bend the toes on the backs of her feet sideways so that her footspurs sank into the rock in the same way. The spurs were longer and more powerful than the claws on her fingers, but harder to use. It was like learning to operate a new set of thumbs.

She remembered climbing trees back at her parent’s farm. “Same thing,” she muttered as she tapped another hand into the rock, shaking, chiseling. “Almost.” The motion felt like it should hurt, but it didn’t. It wasn’t like tapping fingernails against a wall, feeling like they would break off. ‘Teur claws were stronger. She kept climbing, one hand, one foot, another hand, another foot, onward and upward. Mod looked down at the ground ten feet below her, then looked back up at the ledge. It was a long way away, but she’d already come this far. There was no point in climbing back down. She was glad she’d never been afraid of heights.

One hand, one foot at a time, Mod slowly worked her way up the wall. She screamed once when a rock came loose and scraped her cheek as it crashed down to the ground, but she kept going until she was able to put one hand over the edge of the cliff and pull herself up to the top.

Mod slowly got to her feet and looked around. Beyond the edge of the cliff, there was the horizon, same as it had been for millennia, with that low glow far in the distance, like a sun that never rose or set. She sat at the end of the ledge and stared, hugging her oddly bony knees, feeling the stillness of the air around her. She looked over the edge of the cliff at the ground far below, and then held her hands before her face, staring at her palms.

She sat like that for what seemed like hours – in the West, it was hard to tell how much time had really passed. She would have stayed there until she fell asleep if she hadn’t felt Aaron’s hand on her shoulder. She jumped in surprise. Aaron chuckled and sat beside her. “You made it,” he said.

“Hm?”

“All the way up here.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Mod opened one of her hands and stared down at her claws. “They do come in handy.” She folded her fingers into an approximation of a fist.

Aaron took one of Mod’s hands in his and pulled her fingers apart, studying her palms. He held one of his hands open beside it. “Look,” he said. “The lines.”

“What?” said Mod.

“The lines are different on yours,” said Aaron. He traced a claw along one of the wrinkles on her palm in between the scars from where she’d accidentally scratched herself.

Mod stared down. It was true – the lines on Aaron’s hands folded in the bends under his fingers. Mod’s were different – the creases on her palms didn’t line up with her joints. She gasped. “It’s left over...”

Aaron closed her hand. “Human,” he said, bending her claws back to keep them from scratching her. “It means you’re human.”

“Maggie.” Mod tightened her hands into fists and pressed them against her chest. She could have hugged them. She wondered what else the machine had missed. It didn’t seem possible that it could have missed anything the way it had ripped her apart, every inch of her, every detail, but, somehow, it had. “Not Mod. Maggie.” She looked up at Aaron. “What am I, now?” she said. “Am I human? Am I ‘Teur? What am I? What do you even call me?”

Aaron said nothing for a moment, staring into the horizon. Then, a little nervously, he reached for her fists and pulled them away from her chest, wrapping them in his hands. “I call you the most beautiful person I have known in my whole life.”

Mod – Maggie – leaned away as it dawned on her exactly what this meant. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t seen it before. “No,” she said. “No, I can’t… I have a boyfriend. Eric.”

Aaron let go of her hands. His expression never changed – she’d thought before that it was concern, maybe caring, and now she saw it for what it was: love. Just love.

“I have to go,” she said. She stood up and climbed back down the side of the cliff in such a hurry that she almost didn’t notice the feeling of her claws sinking back into the stone.

She tore through Jeka’s trunk full of clothes, hoping that Aaron hadn’t followed her down the cliff. She didn’t think he had. He wasn’t stupid. She pulled out several pairs of pants until she found one that would be long enough and wide enough to cover her legs entirely, including her spurs, which she’d tied to the backs of her legs to keep from slicing the fabric. They seemed to help with balance, so walking would be difficult.

She put on the pants, a leather belt, a jacket, a hat, and some gloves. She put on some sunglasses and stretched some electrical tape over her nose, covering the two smaller eyes under her normal ones. She pulled her claws back against her toes, tied them down, and put on a pair of socks. She had no shoes that would fit her, so she clawed off a few shreds from a rubber mat and tied them to her feet. She checked her reflection in the mirror. She looked weird, but as long as she kept her distance from other people, it would have to do.

Maggie ran out of the hut towards the tunnel behind the camp, heading back to earth.

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