Upon a comet never named, under a bleakly-forming coma sky, among the ice and dust caking the nucleus like an ideal antithesis of moss, was a door. And as with everything on that comet, that door belonged to me. I was quite proud of that door. I created it myself. It was primarily made of ice and reinforced with dust, which worked perfectly in that chilly climate. It kept the outside outside and the inside inside, and that fact mattered more than the details of what exactly was on either side. It formed my place of solace away from the bright glare of the universe past the sublimation. It was my first creation, and a necessity, for without it, I would have been in terrible trouble when the comet was in perihelion with a star, which was bound to occur now and then. I sometimes likened my new state to being a vampire. But there was no blood anywhere, nor within, as my consciousness now inhabited a body of ice and dust. And as far as I was concerned, that was how it had always been, one way or another. There was only ice and dust in my soul, and my door may have just as well been part of my body. We were the same: we let a little light through, scattered the rest, and were proud of it.
I was the only one to touch that door for a long time, as little as time mattered on the comet and in my barely-mortal state. But, eventually, the moment I both anticipated and dreaded did come: an abrupt knock from the outside. The granular ice within my cavern home radiated in waves from the sudden change, oscillating with the sudden shift of my awareness. I looked toward the door, and a vague darkness loomed beyond. They had come. I knew it would be a mistake to open the door, but at the same time, I wanted the satisfaction of direct refusal. They had come for me, and I was not about to leave. I needed to make sure they knew that.
What greeted me after I opened the door was about as I expected: a protective suit with a human somewhere inside. The flesh I so hated for myself was now at my door, and I stared in silence for a moment to allow the human to, perhaps, leave without me saying a word. I thought that maybe my fearsome form would have been enough for them to write me off as a monster and to never return to look for me again.
But the human stood their ground, and spoke with a firm, rehearsed voice, through a speaker on their suit. The voice was muffled, and though I could hear it, that was all I could do. It had been so long since I heard a human voice that I did not initially understand what they said. It did not matter. They had to leave at once, and I did not want to be more familiar with their speech patterns than necessary.
It was time for me to speak, and for all the time I spent thinking of how I would turn the inevitable human away, my words were, I believed, clear and simple enough. I arranged the words within me and brought them forth from cavern echoes. My voice rang hollow and harsh through the ice as I spoke. “I do not want visitors. I do not want to leave. Please leave me alone, now and forever. Go home.”
The human exhaled, fogging up their visor for a moment. Despite this hesitation, though, they persevered, and I understood their utterances this time, to my dismay. “You know who I am. I’m not leaving without you. You should know that.”
In the abstract, I had an idea of who they were: a hotshot who thought they could come in there and take me away from my life, probably sent by others who thought the same but weren’t quite as into traveling. But it was all the same to me. In my perfectly frozen mind, after being away from them for so long, their species was interchangeable, inconsequential, and more of a pest in my past than anything more nuanced. I preferred it that way, as to not have to think about them in any manner but the bare minimum. This was a human, just a human. Awful. And this human was speaking to me as if they had rehearsed what they’d say. That was all humans did. I created. I improvised. I felt. They regurgitated. The flesh and blood quickly grew stale, but the ice and dust only became more elegant with time. I didn’t want to spend any more time talking, but now it was necessary. I brought myself to speak more, and I found it uncomfortably easier than the first time. “I don’t care if you’ve traveled for years across space to find me. Leave.”
“I did,” they said suddenly with some indignation, showing a little unplanned dash of themself before continuing, “and I will not leave, not without…” They trailed off, delaying the inevitable, and looked to their left, which took some effort in their cumbersome outfit. “What is that?”
Thinking that they were, perhaps, planning on doing something drastic once I was distracted, I stared at them again, taking full advantage of my lack of the biological need to blink. But they didn’t stop staring at something in the distance, so I could not help but eventually look as well. Maybe there was indeed something, like a new fissure or a dust storm. This human probably had never set foot on a comet before, and mine was headed for increased activity pretty soon, judging by the star that had become much larger and more annoying than the others in the recent past. So I looked.
The human took this as an opportunity to move past me and my door into my home.
“Get out of here,” I called after them, my voice coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. Annoyance turned to anger, fissures in my perfect crystal form.
“No,” the human said stubbornly, “Now I’m not leaving your…home…until…”
Now the human was looking around with a more genuine emotion, though I could not tell if it was closer to interest or despair. Regardless, it had been so long since I had seen a human’s expressions that it took this to realize how falsely they had been behaving as they tricked me just moments before.
“You live here?” The question was weak, as if they knew the answer but were hoping they were somehow wrong.
“Of course I live here, this is obviously my home,” I snapped. I hated that this outward display of emotion was still within me and that this human was drawing it out, but I had too much momentum to stop it. “What, is there something wrong with it?”
“It’s just…it feels so barren and uninviting, that’s all.” I could hear the intruder’s voice softening a little. “I-I mean, I know about your old life, so I thought you might have a little more of…well…what you might’ve liked before.”
“Were you expecting me to have held onto any part of humanity? Here?! In this form?!” A feeling I had suppressed for so long was coming out of me, and I hoped it was in the process of being expelled, never to be felt again. The last thing I wanted was to be reminded of a time where I was not of ice and dust.
Of course they’d have known my name, of course, but I had spent so very long trying to scrape it from my mind. They even pronounced it correctly, and I despised that I remembered that most people did not, because that meant I remembered anything. That was the final straw. Raising my translucent hand, I attempted to form ice in scoops that would push them through the doorway. I wasn’t used to this manner of ice-forming, though, so it was some trial-and-error as my ice yanked the human around a bit. Still, my voice was as clear as ever. “All right, that’s it. Out. Now, human.”
The human looked panicked about the crystalline ice moving around them, but spent the effort to turn around to face me again anyway. “You really don’t recognize me, do you?”
“You’re a human, I barely remember what humans look like, and I’m trying to not let you remind me too much. And once you’re gone on your ship or whatever you used to get here, I won’t have to remember humans ever again because you’ll tell the other humans who sent you that I don’t want to leave.” As I talked, I directed the human closer and closer to the door. It was almost time to close it and to keep it closed, with humanity firmly and eternally on the other side.
The indignance in their voice made me stop the movement of ice for a moment, and the way they said my name that second time was distantly yet still painfully familiar. But I was not lying. All I saw was a human squished into an inconvenient protective suit, who was now yelling at me, which distorted their voice through the speaker as they continued.
“I was trying to treat you like the Berene I knew, not some…awful ice monster in the vague shape of a woman!”
“Well, sorry to disappoint,” I said with cold sarcasm that came from some deep crevice of my existence, “but I am an awful ice monster. So you’d better get out of here before I start acting more like one than I already…am.” I felt myself grind to a halt as I realized what the human said, and pitifully uttered a stupid question as I was taken off guard. “What, you knew me?”
“Obviously!” The human crossed their arms, which also took some effort. “You told me you loved me. I thought that would’ve stuck with you even if nothing else did.”
They searched me with their eyes for any sign of recognition, but they wouldn’t have found any even if my face were as human as theirs. They were waiting for me to say their name, I guessed, and I had no guesses. Something in me wanted to guess, but I only found disappointment in myself for not having an answer, and further disappointment in myself for wanting one. The only thing I could do was to wait for them to become so frustrated with me that they’d say it themself, which took a significantly longer uncomfortable silence than I thought it would have.
“I have to say my name for you? Fine. It’s Soleia. Now can you hurry up and remember your fiancée?”
I remembered. I remembered intensely. I bristled in surprise, and it was a bad bristle. Spikes of dense ice crystal formed rapidly across the interior of my home, and a few nearly impaled Soleia, who didn’t even flinch, as she was looking down at the floor.
She could not be here. Soleia could not be here. “You have to leave.”
“You really don’t remember—”
I had to cut her off there. “No, Soleia, I remember. You still have to leave. I left to get away from all of it. Yes, I loved you, but you were part of it.”
“Part of what?” Soleia asked sadly, with a sharp edge of hurt.
I hesitated, and then answered truthfully. “I don’t remember, and that’s the point. I don’t want to remember.” Mustering up some of my previous coldness and making sure to make it impersonal, I managed to awkwardly add, “please, leave.”
Soleia didn’t respond for a moment, and then I felt the tears running down her face, a rare form of water on this tiny world of ice and vapor. Seemingly half to herself, she mumbled, “I didn’t expect you to be this bad…what am I going to do now…”
I chose to not care whether or not that was directed toward me, since I had an answer. I doubled down on my resolve. “You are going to leave and forget about me, even if that’s hard for you, because I’m not going back. Look at me, Soleia. Do you really think I would be even compatible with humanity anymore after willingly doing this to myself and living like this for so long?! And being content about it?! Where is your ship? I’ll escort you there, even. But I’m not getting on.”
Soleia mumbled something that I couldn’t hear.
“What? I can hear pretty well, as I hear through reverberations in the ice, but—”
This time, she opted for shouting. “There is no ship!” She turned to look at me, her face something I probably used to be able to fix with a kiss but now saw as just a broken, hopeless enigma. “It didn’t survive landing. I stole it, and I had never flown anything before, so I didn’t really know how to land it on anything, and it didn’t have any ability to land on anything like a comet automatically. So I had it chase your damn comet across space until I finally got close enough and ejected and let the ejection pod figure out the rest. I don’t even know what happened to the ship. But it’s gone. My only object was to find you, and I did, and maybe it was all for nothing, because I didn’t find my Berene, I just found more ice and dust…” She started to sob.
At that point, I remembered what sobbing was, and I hated it more than I likely ever did in the past. And I did not hate it because it was human. I hated it because it hurt, even in a body that could no longer hurt or shed a single tear.
But I do not know if I would have cried even if I could have, because I was in shock instead. “What?! Why did you do that?!” I knew why, but I could not stop myself from asking. It was all I could do. I did not know what to do otherwise. I thought I had left this feeling of hopelessness behind when I had forsaken my humanity, and I wanted nothing more than to cast it out again. And that would mean casting Soleia out. Out to die, though? Was I willing to commit negligent murder for my own comfort? I was not prepared to answer that question at that moment, so I did not, and instead stood silently near Soleia, hoping that she would say something.
Soleia did not answer my question, but she asked another, in a rather defeated tone. “Well? Aren’t you going to finish pushing me out into the cold?” She wasn’t speaking to Berene anymore, she was speaking to the ice monster.
“I don’t know,” said the ice monster, eyeing the still-open doorway.
“What is that supposed to mean?” She shifted her positioning a little to face me more. “Didn’t you get rid of human things like indecision and emotions?”
“I thought I did, but you’re doing a great job of undoing it…Soleia.” Her name escaped that time.
Not acknowledging me further, Soleia turned away. I could not tell what she might have been thinking, and part of me still wanted to not care. But I did, and I couldn’t stop myself. So I waited and worried, standing entirely motionless as I often did alone, like some sort of ice sculpture. And soon my instincts as one of ice and dust took over, and I allowed myself to be lost in them as a kind of escape from the present situation. Ice formed and reformed around my cavernous home, rippling in waves, finely crystalline and complex. It danced around Soleia as well, who took notice of the display.
“Is this what you do here, when you’re alone?” She sounded detached and unfeeling. In a way, that should have been comforting, but it wasn’t.
I stopped, my inner concentration broken, and the ripples of ice ceased. “Yes.”
She spoke without turning around, her voice remaining defeated, with a little bit of sincerity poking through. “It’s beautiful.”
“Ah…” Her compliment caught me off guard, and the ceiling oscillated a little with my subconscious gratitude.
“I might as well say that you are still beautiful too, even like…that, Berene. You kept a lot of your pretty features after all.” She paused, but not long enough for me to reply before she continued in a wavering voice, possibly talking to herself more than me. “I guess I may as well delude myself into thinking you are still the woman I loved, with the short time I have left here.”
“What?” A more serious dread crept back into my psyche, one I had not felt since I was fully human, one associated with the constant mortal peril of being human flesh, the peril Soleia was still very much experiencing. I mentally braced myself for the bad news.
Soleia allowed herself a little sigh before continuing quietly. “This suit is for emergencies, so it’ll keep me breathing and warm and pressurized for a few weeks, maybe, and it will soon put me to sleep as a measure to allow me to live as long as possible, but after that…well, I don’t suppose you have any human accommodations here that would make this situation any better.”
“So, that’s it, then. Are you going to cast me out now, so that you don’t have to watch it yourself?”
That hurt. “Of course not. I’m not a monster.”
“That’s not what you said a little while ago.”
“I’m less and less the person I thought I was a little while ago with each passing moment, it seems.”
“Hm.” Soleia turned back toward me, looking up at me with eyes that glimmered with the slightest hints of tired yet desperate hope. “Tell me you love me.”
That was too much to ask. I fell silent, frozen in place. The room felt just a little bit colder.
Soleia dipped her head in slight disappointment, and then looked at me again. “I can’t begin to understand, Berene, but I realize that might have been too much. I’m sorry. I just wanted to hear it before…” She trailed off for a moment before continuing. “…ah, I didn’t mention, it took a long time to find you. I almost didn’t. My suit is starting to put me to sleep, so I was hoping to hear it before I went under. But will you at least stay with me, by my side? Please promise me you will.”
“I am very cold, Soleia, even colder than the ice around us. I would only make your suit fail more quickly.”
“It doesn’t matter, it will fail regardless. Sit with me, Berene, if you can sit.”
“Soleia…” I looked down at my own form, which I barely ever cared to do. The suggestions of legs connected with the ice on the ground seamlessly, and though they could move like legs, they were only ice and dust, and could be resculpted. I worked to bring myself down to her level, transforming my standing posture to one resembling her own seated arrangement of lower body. “I will sit with you.” My voice likely sounded as harsh as ever, but any harshness had left me. “I promise.”
Soleia shivered slightly and nodded with a small smile. We watched each other in silence, and soon she fell asleep. And while she slept, the ice did not dance, for I was wholly concentrated on the human I loved.
Time passed, and Soleia remained breathing, though it was shallower and shallower. And as time passed, more and more light began pouring through the open doorway and other imperfections of my interior, illuminating previously shadowed areas, I found myself having to refreeze more and more of it with rapidly increasing frequency. I promised Soleia to stay by her side, but eventually, I had to rise and look outside.
The star that had been becoming brighter was now dominating the now-bright sky, the coma forming a tail like a bridge to the star. We were approaching perihelion. It was likely beautiful from afar, but living on a comet, all I saw in perihelion was tragedy and uncertainty. I found myself trying to reach for distant memories of Soleia and myself watching a comet, perhaps in each other’s warmth. Seeing the wonder of a comet might have even been the reason I pursued this life in the first place. I couldn’t be certain whether or not I had this sort of memory or if I was just creating a false memory of something I wanted to have happened, but the reality I was currently facing was one of my world slowly collapsing into the heavens above me, a hungry god of plasma taking its offering and threatening to consume me as well. I quickly closed the door before too much of my own body sublimated away.
Despite all of the emotions that Soleia’s arrival unlocked, I was still of the ice and dust, and the instincts associated with such an existence took over as I started to fortify my dwelling with my most familiar materials. But as I did so, the temperature dropped even more, and I saw Soleia’s body shiver involuntarily. A certain piece of information from my human life then flickered into my mind, and I knew what I had to do. I had to protect myself and my home, but most importantly, I had to try to protect Soleia.
I brought ice from the floor up to me in columns, joining with my side from ground to head, and lowered myself down carefully to lie next to Soleia, fusing with the ice of the floor. She shivered again, but it would not be for long. I had to do the next part quickly, I knew that much. But I did not know what would happen next, apart from one thing: I wouldn’t be able to let go. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my home unless someone else came to find us, and I had no chance to ask if that was even a possibility. But why, I asked myself, should I lament my loss of a corporeal form? Was it not just a crutch I was using this whole time because I wasn’t ready to leave all of my humanity behind, even though I so stubbornly told myself that I was the furthest thing from human? And how terrible was it, after all this, that I was still thinking of myself before all else? Before Soleia?
My mind was reeling in the moment, but then I felt my beloved door disappear, and the coma outside streamed in, and I knew I could not wait any longer. I cracked the visor lightly fogged with my lover’s fading breaths and drew her into the ice and dust for what may have been, and what may still be, our final kiss.