03 April 2011

The Ondine Wore Chrysanthemums

Kieran stood on the Bridge of Sorrows, staring down at the black mercury of the water flowing sluggishly beneath the deck.  A new generation of bioluminescent lights along the harbor threw cold light, making the surface of the river alternate between sheens of oil and blood.  The water was cleaner now that the heavy industries had all but disappeared in the roiling chaos cloud of information age concerns in an unholy alliance with the rainmakers of biotech and genetic engineering.  The air still held mysterious and troubling odors, Kieran knew, but composed of different chemistries.

Kieran wept, the drops falling fatly from his nose to join the raindrops spattering the water.

The engineer raised a hand to wipe his eyes, forgetting the flower clutched in his fingers.  The fleshy softness of the petals caressed his cheek, causing him to flinch violently.  Their warmth felt good, shocking against the chill air, but they reminded him too much of fingers.  Her fingers.

He drew back his head to study the flower, as if really noticing it for the first time.  It was a chrysanthemum, brilliant pink, and would have cost a small fortune to the average layman.  Kieran smiled in a small way, finding perhaps for the first time in years a perk of being a gene splicer: he could get actual wild flowers, genetically pure and free of the taint of modern DNA splicing.  What with the prevalence of splicing and genetic drift and the inevitable escape into the "wild" of lab mistakes and experiments gone wrong, some of which Kieran's own company were deeply and shamefully responsible for, finding genetically pure anything living freely was getting difficult to impossible.

That almost every living thing was in danger of becoming an artifact ate away at his conscience, his soul.  Tonight, he thought, he was truly coming to pay for it, by losing the only person who had made him able to understand love beyond reason.  Even if she had been an experiment.

Kieran wiped his eyes again, careful to avoid the flower.  A memory came back to him of his first week on the job, a newbie full of more enthusiasm than sense sitting in a training seminar.  The corporate hack at the front of the room looked like a walking advertisement for DNA mods and enhancements, although the young engineer had not noticed at the time.  A well-groomed meatsuit intoning in a dire voice, telling the small group of gene techs that they "should always remain vigilant, and never fall in love with their 'products', ever".

Kieran shuddered at the recall. 'Products'.  The word tasted sour in his mind now, especially when he thought of her.  She had been his most successful creation yet, designed to live in low to mid-range undersea environments. A full functioning female-based 'humanculus' as those in the profession had dubbed them.  She was smart, the most important asset from the Company view; her beauty, while unconventional, had been a random effect of the genetic material they had started with.  It was Company policy not to invest resources and energy in eradicating traits that were 'output neutral' relative to the desired end result.

Kieran thought that maybe they should have.  His own bloodline caught up with him, he fell in love with the creature he began to think of as his selkie, his ondine.  He even brought her flowers once, chrysanthemums, and they both smiled at the absurdity of the gesture.  The Celtic blood in his veins came to life, and he started dreaming of her, swimming alongside her, making love in the aqueous jade ocean and paying homage to Mannanán.

His devotion to her, in the end, was not enough.  She began behaving erratically, falling short of the benchmarks the Company insisted on to certify their products.  She slowly withdrew and responded only to Kieran directly.  He began to hear whispers and rumors that the product would be 'withdrawn', a euphemism horrifying in its implications.  His heart couldn't stand it, and he resolved to let her go.

He personally opened the gates that led to the sea.  She watched him intently as he twisted valves and overrode the security locks.  With the sudden inrush of seawater into the holding bay, her eyes widened and she understood what he meant her to do.  She placed a palm against the thick quartz of the observation port.  That tender gesture nearly undid him as he placed his own hand on the cool surface.  She shook her head, and turned to swim out into the dark.

That had been a week ago. He knew her chances were poor, too many weaknesses in the splices.  He also knew about the terminator genes the Company typically tagged on to all their projects.  He could not contemplate her fate when those kicked in.

Kieran shook his head.  It was cold and the rain was turning to snow.  He needed to get out while he still could.  The pink chrysanthemum shimmied as he shivered.  It had become her favorite flower. 
He gently tossed the flower over the side of the bridge.  A few languid loops later it came to rest on the silky surface of the river.  Kieran watched it slowly disappear, turning himself away to trudge back to the capsule hotel that had become his new home.  His cheeks were no longer wet.

Below the bridge, the chrysanthemum spiraled in the current.  Emerging into the nacreous gray light on the downstream side of the bridge, a hand of milky-white skin and bluish nails plucked the flower from below.


  1. This is beautifully written! I really liked it & I stayed involved with the character. :)

  2. oh oh oh....love love love!!!! especially the twist en fin....thank you


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...