A gnawing ugliness had begun to eat at my insides. I was certain the servants' whispers were true: we were at
the bitter end of our five-year supplies. Every day, as grandfather paced the marble halls of our bubble, I
struggled against terrible anger. The reality rested cold and hard inside me: Grandfather would soon decide who
would feed and who would starve.
"Granddaughter!" grandfather yelled.
I gathered myself up, molecules sliding across the floor to rejoin and reform my tall lanky body. Grandfather
stood in the middle of the divining room with his avtandi in his hand.
"I mean to consult the compass again," grandfather said.
The ferret looked at me with beady glimmering eyes.
"But Grandfather, you just checked it this morning."
Grandfather paused and parted his beard obsessively. Then he repeated himself in a shaky voice.
"Yes, but I mean to consult the compass again."
I lowered my head, but I could see Grandfather's forearm struggling to hold the ferret steady. When the
ferret's claws started rattling, I watched its every move. After it sank its teeth into the blocks and the
servant had hung them, grandfather neared the compass. I followed a few steps behind. The crowd yelled
"D! U! B!" with the enthusiasm of children, but grandfather made no grand announcement this time.
"They're exactly the same, grandfather," I said.
Grandfather said nothing. His fingers returned to his chin to fondle his beard.
While watching his worried motions, something took over me. Even as I did it I did not know my reasons for my
actions. When the ferret scampered away from the compass to return to its haven of grandfather flesh, I placed
my hand in front of my belly and coaxed a sphere of my own flesh toward my palm. My sphere drifted to the ground
and the ferret halted, confused. Its beady eyes swung from my sphere to grandfather's and back again.
The ferret crawled cautiously towards my grandfather's flesh, then turned away to sniff at mine. Grandfather
watched his avtandi's confusion impassively. Not one of his bony fingers left his beard to alter the outcome.
The ferret's cautiousness deteriorated into panic as it scuttled back and forth between our spheres so rapidly,
it became a blur. I took a deep breath and glanced at grandfather. His face was marked by a dull resignation I
could not stomach. I lifted my hand to retract the challenge, but before I could withdraw my flesh, the ferret
veered sharply, and plunged into my sphere.
My flesh encircled my grandfather's avtandi; a deep, ragged breath seeped from my grandfather's lungs. Was
that a slight smile creasing grandfather's lips? Fear, paranoia and regret exploded in my chest. Why was it so
hard to breathe? Grandfather's voice cut through my hysteria. "It is done," he muttered.
Those grave words pushed me into action. I waved my hand over my sphere as if my muscles had performed the
task a thousand times. My flesh drifted up from the floor, but grandfather didn't bother with his. He left his
globe of organs discarded at his feet, preferring to watch me wide-eyed as my sphere refitted into my
The moment the flesh rejoined my body an electric shock ripped through me. I yelled and fell to my knees.
My palms and forehead were wet with sweat. The room receded from my eyesight as visions flashed before my eyes.
I saw grandfather intentionally setting the bubble on the wrong course. Me begging my parents to let me go on
a brief day trip in grandfather's bubble. My parents arguing about grandfather's incompetence. Grandfather
taking this ferret, this same avtandi from his grandfather. Grandfather watching his grandfather die.
Terror welled in my throat, but my mind making sense of the visions at a feverish pace quelled my
emotions. When I regained focus, I was staring at the marble floor. A palpable hush filled the divining room;
everyone stared mutely. I heard a muffled groan behind me. When I twisted around on all fours, I saw grandfather,
shriveled into a tiny ball, dying just as his grandfather did. I looked into his eyes searching for a flicker
of recognition, hatred, pain, but there was nothing there.
"You¡" The condemnation burning in my lungs would not spring from my mouth. Could I blame grandfather for
attempting to escape extinction?
"I¡" I started to claim ignorance for my actions, but the apology died on my lips.
"How¡" I wanted to ask what alternative I'd had, but my need to be proclaimed innocent wilted just as
quickly as it sprouted. We passengers were the innocents here. He would starve us, before taking us home.
Those visions did not lie.
I shook off the last remnants of concern I held for grandfather and struggled to stand. The unfamiliar
weight in my belly pulled me back towards the floor. I strained against the increased gravity and fought my
way to my feet.
"Dub," I whispered while forcing myself to forget grandfather's dying body. There was no time for mourning.
I shuffled forward, testing the new balance my avtandiheavy body required. I neared the compass searching
my subconscious for a vision of grandfather navigating the bubble. I almost lost my breath when I mimicked
grandfather's navigating stance. I bent over, momentarily disoriented. Then I straightened, took a big gulp
of air, and set a course for home.
Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer and painter. Her short story "At Life's Limits" appears in the ground-breaking anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree R. Thomas. Other work has appeared in Ms., Essence, and various literary magazines and anthologies. Her periodic KISList newsletters provide a window onto her travels and thoughts about writing. Originally from New Orleans, she now lives in Brooklyn.