Chapter 12

Aurelia Aurita.

Noun.

The Moon Jelly, one of the most commonly recognized species of jellyfish. Found in coastal waters all over the world. Identifiable by the four horseshoe-shaped gonads easily visible from the top down.

Like all similarly constructed jellyfish, it would not be able to move or function without the help of its pulsing, bell-shaped hood. They are unintelligent and harmless, with weak stings.

Rare are human individuals who wish to mate with Moon Jellies, but they do exist.


On the wall facing my bed, I saw it again. The ship poster.

It was the third time I had run into it, resized but otherwise identical versions present during both the meeting in New York and my pre-bed spray and pray. I stared at it while my head began to clear out, the doctor entering my room only seconds after cohesive thought returned to me. Seeing that I was awake, he smiled at me.

“Good morning, Mr. Sualo.”

He was on the older side, and he moved slowly, taking his time to turn around and close the door. Remembering why I was in a hospital bed to begin with, I seized the opportunity, quickly reaching underneath the covers to check.

Uno, dos.

A wind of relief rushed out of me. I pulled my hand back out just in time for the doctor to turn back towards me, pulling up a chair. After sitting down, he stuck out a hand.

I shook it, testing my grip. It was the same as always, my body feeling fine, full of energy. There was some trace soreness down below, but I was basically at full capacity. Nothing compared to the agony in the bedroom.

I half-listened to what the doctor said, my mind less present than my body, taking in what was important. My wires got crossed, Hallie managed to get help, and they took me in. Once they started, surgery took less than an hour, but I had been sleeping for four. Everything went fine, and beyond instructions not to do anything strenuous for a couple days, there would be no long-term ramifications.

The boys were fine. Not today, curse.

“Hallie,” I said.

“She came in to… sorry, would I say see you? I’m not familiar with the preferred terminology, in these instances.”

“…The general consensus is that you would, yes. There’s no reason to avoid words with visual connotations; it’s clear what you mean, when you say that a blind person watched a movie, that they saw someone at a party. No reason to walk on eggshells, the thinking goes. Talk to and about them as you would anyone else.”

“Good to know. Well, she came in to see you some time ago, but after hearing that all would be well, she went out for lunch.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, um, there was someone to go with her. Another young woman. Can’t quite remember her name, but she’s an onboard entertainer too. Professional opera singer. She was waiting on someone too, so I think they hit it off.”

Hard to believe, Hallie making a new friend. Not that I was against it. Clem and I had been talking about it for some time, ways we might get her interacting with someone who wasn’t one of us. I hadn’t seen the cruise as a solution to that — an environment of dying billionaire octogenarians didn’t seem the place that was going to get her to finally open up — but if she found someone she could talk to in spite of that, I wasn’t complaining.

“Not to change the subject, Mr. Sualo, but I do have another concern to discuss. You passing out had nothing to do with the torsion; you were very dehydrated. That didn’t cause your main problem, but it certainly didn’t make fixing it any easier, and it’s a serious issue in itself. I’m not your primary care physician, so I don’t want to be giving you any long-term medical advice, but you need to be drinking more water. A guy your size should be taking in three-quarters of a gallon of water per day.”

That was the weird part. Health was an obsession of mine, and a chunk of that involved a continuous focus on making sure I was drinking enough, aiming for the clearest piss I could. If anything, I was usually the one reminding Hallie to drink more. And yesterday hadn’t been any different; I’d drunk plenty.

I started pointing that out to the doctor, but I wasn’t able to get more than a half a sentence out. A voice interrupted, from outside from room. A loud voice.

“Hey, I got the sample!”

The doctor had left a sliver of door open while closing it, and the voice walked in without invitation, smiling and holding a plastic cup.

He was young, another soon-to-be rarity aboard the Paphnutius, in his early to mid-twenties. There wasn’t much to comment on physically: the guy was white and tan and standing at about five-foot-nine, no magic cube bowlcut to stand out as an easy identifier. He was one of those guys who let his hair grow out past his shoulders, and unlike most of them, he wore it well, thick brown curls falling evenly against his back.

It was dumb of me to think, but there was a sort of vacantness present in his smile and bright turquoise eyes, a friendly expression that marked him as stupid, empty. His grin was slightly too wide, his eyes that much too open, making him come off as absent-minded. Together with the loose bathing suit and Hawaiian shirt, his look screamed “dumb surfer dude”.

I wasn’t actually judging him off that basis; those were just the vibes his split-second introduction sent out. I knew better than to try and draw conclusions from it.

The oldest of my four younger sisters, Star, had a rant she liked to give me and anyone who’d listen, complaining about her resting bitch face. She was easily the most upbeat person in our family, but her face naturally settled into a nasty frown, giving anyone who didn’t know her the opposite impression.

Maybe the guy at the door had that, but in reverse. Normal dude with a resting moron face. I could see that. At a minimum, I couldn’t disprove that it wasn’t the case. Don’t judge a book by its cover, it was said.

Still grinning, he handed the doctor the cup. After seeing it myself, I frowned. The doctor probably hadn’t been expecting a solid.

“…A urine sample.”

His eyes darted down to the cup, and then back up to the doctor, and then back down. As his eyes narrowed, he twirled a strand of hair between his fingers, an uncomfortable amount of time passing before realization hit.

“Oh. Ooooooh. Urine. That’s, um…”

“Pee.”

Presh laughed.

“Yeah, okay. I can do that. That was my second guess.”

On the other hand, illustrators put a lot of effort into making book covers. They couldn’t be totally meaningless.


Walking out of the office, I found myself in a hallway on the third floor of the ship. No one there could tell where Hallie and her friend had gone to eat, only that they had, leaving me to wonder around checking all the dining establishments aboard the ship. The doctors said that they knew only one would be operating for the twenty or so passengers who had been allowed to board, but they didn’t know which. Checking a map printed on the wall, I opted to check the top deck first, working my way down.

I wasn’t in that big of a hurry; Hallie already knew that I was fine, and if she really had managed to find someone she was willing to have a discussion with, the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt it. Plus, walking slow felt right, considering what had just happened to me. All the soreness had left already, but I still didn’t want to play around with it, not wanting a repeat visit.

(The worst thing was knowing that testicular torsion existed, that it could happen again, anytime, through no fault of my own. I missed the innocence I had carried less than a day ago, not knowing how badly my own body could decide to screw itself over.)

The real reason for my lack of hurriedness, if I was being honest with myself, was not wanting to feed into the desire. Running straight to her for reassurance was an extension of that old part of myself, which I couldn’t deny having felt again after waking up in a hospital bed, the doctor smiling at me, the nurses repeatedly asking me if I was alright. I had been really, really consistent with not letting it affect my behavior for a long time, but any context with me injured and surrounded by medical professionals was an invitation for me to start and try doing it again.

Like giving an addict their favorite drug, telling them not to use it, to be responsible. The best thing to do was to separate. You couldn’t allow the presence of temptation.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. Presh. He was breathing hard, having run from the office in order to catch up with me.

“Hey! You, uh, wanna hang out?”

“Um.”

“C’mon, c’mon. I’ll buy you a drink. They’ve got good stuff here.”

“…I need to find my girlfriend.”

“Me too!”

I scratched the back of my head. Presh went on, smiling, unconcerned with my awkwardness and confusion over how to deal with him.

“Yeah, uh, my girlfriend and I, we were just talking and I suddenly had this butt thing. Fell over and everything, blood and stuff! I was gonna go out and get a drink, and I told her, you know, not that. And then, ha, boom, my butt’s bleeding, I’m on the floor, everything hurts, then it goes dark. Crazy stuff, dude. The doctor had like, a medical name for it, but whatever. Crazy.”

Presh liked to share.

Wrapping his arm around my shoulder, he led me forward to the elevator, and we went in search of our women. Presh talked and talked, and I listened and listened, wishing for death.

Still, nice guy.

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