The Living City

by Hien Nguyen
Issue 14: Megacity | 984 words

Untitled, © Greg Brave/Adobe Stock​

Content warnings: parental death, allusions to surgery and inherited health issues

There are constellations at your feet. They are everywhere, threading like rivers and pulsing through earth before bursting into clusters of shooting stars. Membranes and blood. Electricity and light. The living city. Your body is miraculous.

When you were a child, you were excited to become a city one day. Not all your kind decided on this fate. Some migrated up toward the 217th to 300th solar lines, where it was cooler, and they could enjoy their own company without the hinderance of Tellurian reliance. The suns there were less forgiving, but their bodies could afford to be a bit more lethargic. It wasn’t appropriate to force someone to become a living city, and many decided it was too much trouble. You thought about choosing the easier path once, struck by your own feebleness. But it seemed too lonely an existence. You wanted to be like your mother.

She was the living city of the 19th solar line. Only the second city since the revival of the universe. You once knew how many cycles it’d been since the beginning, but your brain is foggy and you can’t remember. A voice commands you to take a deep breath, and you comply. Your lungs, membranes of fungus and netted bacteria, inflate deep in the underground of your flesh. The fingers on your left hand twitch, and for a second, you are afraid you’ve disturbed the farmers who live in the webbing of your thumb.

The farm bells have been silent for a while now, you realize. They’re gone.

Mother was the 45th Terra. She was old enough to remember Tellus, to remember when your kind was united as one before the universe split. There were just too many souls, and the Tellus could no longer sustain the weight.

You imagine what it was like for her when she finally emerged as herself, a body floating alone near the 2nd solar line. Did she miss the other Terra? The other parts of her from before she knew she was herself? You never got the chance to ask her. Actually, it never occurred to you.

You know children are supposed to be selfish, but the thought is devastating, regardless. You wish you’d asked.

Your mind grows dim, and you faintly register a prick at your neck. There’s a dull pulsing as the medicine courses through you. It’s almost time now. You should be asleep, but it seems your mind is fighting still.

Mother was made of deltas and waterfalls. The Tellurians spanned the valleys and grooves of her legs, civilizations bustling with the energy of the 19th sun. She was a warmer city, the mist from her eyes collected under her lashes making the air dense and humid. You remember the warmth in her womb before you emerged as the 91st Terra. Sticky and sweet and suffocating. Trees that were at first taller than buildings before the buildings became taller than the trees. Birds and insects, flooding through the understory of thick forests. Her body was miraculous. Her Tellurians loved her, and so did you.

When she died, you were still a prehistoric city. The Tellurians only lived in the space between your breasts but were migrating and expanding into settlements down your navel. You remember the shock of finding out. You felt it, in the constellation at the base of your ribs.

It was abrupt. Catastrophic, even. When cities die, the Tellurians usually know it’s coming. They have time to prepare, to move to a different city before their Terra can no longer sustain them. But mother left suddenly, and the 18th and 19th solar line cities absorbed the stranded Tellurians. It was a tumultuous time and many perished. But the survivors eventually found new homes and made new lives. It must have been difficult.

You wonder how your Tellurians are faring. Most went to the 30th solar line city, but some scattered all the way up to the 41st. The last of them left only a bit of time ago, the stubborn ones you hold close to your heart like wayward children. You still feel the soft pads of their feet, departing off the lobe of your ear onto the airships. When it was finally silent, you wept.

There is a constellation near the base of your skull that is weaker than the others. You discovered it after a regular assessment many solar cycles ago. They say it was the same constellation that burst in your mother, a weakened spot that eventually overflowed and flooded the other rivers keeping her alive.

But for you, they will try to prevent it.

It is why you are empty now, lying listlessly in a still part of the universe. They will probably save you, they say. Your Tellurians will come back to a vibrant and healthy city, they say.

But there are also risks, they say. The membranes might give way during the procedure, too quick for intervention. They assure you it’s unlikely.

Did your mother know? Did she feel the end nearing? Was she afraid like you are now?

Selfishly, you wonder if she thought of you.

You do not want to die.

You do not know if you will wake. You do not know if you will return to your sun. You do not know if the Tellurians who loved you will ever step foot on this body again.

But you know many other things.

The feeling of your mother’s hand before you let go for the last time.

The warmth when your Tellurians lit fires in the dead of winter and sang songs about you.

A voice warbles and you only dimly register it as your stubborn eyes finally close.

As the living city sleeps, you remember.

The music of the universe when you were first born.

Your mother’s voice. Ringing bells.

It is dark, and soon, you feel nothing but the music of the universe.


Hien Nguyen

Hien Nguyen

Hien Nguyen is an emerging writer with a few pieces published with Insignia Stories, Fudoki Magazine, Invisible City, and All Worlds Wayfarer. Currently, she is based in Indiana and working on novels about Viet girls and hauntings.