The Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23 by Rhiannon Rasmussen

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 16, 2014 in Reviews

Lightspeed
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-hymn-of-ordeal-no-23/
Author Website: rhiannonrs.tumblr.com.

I’ll let the strength of this opening stand on it’s own:

Your brother’s bones, suspended in mineral fluids, turn as smoothly and shine as brightly as the oil-coated joints of the mechanism they guide. When you touch the heavy plastic that separates you from his body, it is cold. The iron plate that serves to cover what is left of his face turns towards the tapping, and nausea wells deep in your throat. You catch a glimpse of yellow fat, the hole of a socket, nerves that once bundled into the base of an eye now strung behind the iron half-mask.

Flesh did not make the transit to deep space whole, only guts packed in gel and nerves strung into wires, the delicate threads that extend to outer sensors, thrusters, and lenses. That is what they are now. Not people, not soldiers, but shrikes: the folded warbirds sent through void to cleanse it of the invaders, to impale them on their own stardust ruins, to leave broken chassis and frozen corpses scattered as warning to others who might threaten us. If the invaders left corpses—you have never seen them, only the scars of their passage left across the skin of Earth.

Interstellar war and deconstructed humans go together like peanut butter and jelly. Kind of a literal jelly, too, I guess, with lots of floating body bits.  This story scores high on the ick factor, if you’re into that sort of thing. (**Raises hand**) But beyond that, this is a masterfully written piece of flash that grips you from beginning to end. There’s the lost sibling relationship that tugs at the heart strings. There’s the alien war and morality lines that get drawn in response. While the narrator never leaves Earth, the weight of space is constantly on her mind, across much of her lifetime. We all know that people come back from war changed, but what happens to the people like her brother who are changed so drastically before they even fight a single battle, reduced to strung nerves and gristle? So many deep questions are posed in this short piece and my only response to Rhiannon is: More, please!

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