For generations, the kanoa drifted in the dark.
Orocobix slumbered within, watching, waiting. The craft jostled as the gravitic maw of the nightsea gripped its calcite hull. Clutched by dark currents, it plunged, bound for a turquoise sphere that shimmered like an island in the oceanic void. The kanoa trembled as it bore through a fiery membrane of sky, amid spooling carmine clouds. As its bony shell withered in the infernal crucible, the living vessel screeched in agony.
Sharing its pain, Orocobix awakened. The little coral polyps that were the kanoa, the beings that served as caretakers for Orocobix’s slumbering body, were dying. Their bony carapaces sloughed into the firmament as the craft plummeted toward a marbled landscape of brown decay and green perseverance. Orocobix bid the polyps a grateful farewell before detaching their body from the corals’ vitreous tethers. After centuries of sleep, Orocobix was ready to shed the comfort of the kanoa and walk among the undreaming.
Orocobix leapt into the sky, recalling previous lives, when they had been others who dived into azure waters from leafy mountain perches to spear wriggling fish or to catch a ricocheting, resin ball amid a batey court of sculpted monoliths. To slow their approach, Orocobix opened their feathered arms, harvesting the energy of the wind column. Below, a colossal wreck peered over an arid landscape. Amid tawny, xeric jags, a cylindrical machina jutted toward the heavens. Clumps of neon-pink moss sought to slow the advance of its synthetic corruption, but their efforts were futile. The pink flora was retreating as steel tentacles reticulated out into the land, staining the soil gray with their deepening incursion.
Orocobix steered their body to line up with the lofty rim of the great cylinder, catching in their peripheral vision the last of the kanoa sputtering into a plume of gold-blue flame. They decelerated, scarlet tail plumes scattering as two pairs of fibrous wing-arms unspooled from their back. The appendages, a weft of living yuca roots tightly braided to soak up air, stabilized their descent to the machina below, but the air was foul with caustics from its foul industry. Their netted wings were swiftly dissolving in the corrosive currents. Orocobix elongated their body, lunging their taloned feet to catch the charred sill of the cylindrical engine just as their wings gave out. They perched atop the machina, peering down to the darkened bottom, where their quarry, a fell engine, hummed and pulsed in bright viridian bursts.
With their wings destroyed, Orocobix had to find another way down to the base of the wreck.
“Nasa,” Orocobix commanded, their voice a guttural song, between bird and human.
From a cotton pouch woven on their reed sash, they tossed a dozen soapstones into the chasm below, watching the glinting missiles transmute into the slick, amber bodies of tiny tree frogs. The cokís sung as they leapt in tandem below, trailing a resinous skein in their wake. When they reached the bottom of the wreck, their pitched cries suddenly went silent as their bodies gave way to lithe cassava roots that spiraled up along the resin track to the rim of the engine where Orocobix waited patiently.
Just as Orocobix positioned themselves to rappel down the cassava latticework to the reactor below, their human ears discerned something approaching from the wreck. The metallic droning that permeated the wreck was unmistakable; the voracious ones, the island-eaters, had come.
Orocobix unsheathed a spicate macana from the coral scabbard fused to their back.
The Astrals encircled, a trio of floating, rust-iron husks, jagged proboscises oozing beneath smoldering glass eyes. Orocobix delved deep into the ancestral wisdom, recounting ancient battles with rival Caribs, plumbing the memories for tactics, but the Astrals moved too quickly. There was no time to consult the matriline for strategy. Orocobix struck first, their flowing scarlet tail-capes cascading in sinuous, feathery flourishes as the ribbed macana met decaying steel.
The first of the trio fell readily in a burst of white sparks and splintered metal. The second darted away, but Orocobix tracked it. They spun their body swiftly to pierce its beaming eye, making sure to shatter the glass that encased its simulacrum of sentience. Orocobix then turned to face their final foe, and the bobbing drone lunged its proboscis at Orocobix’s sternum, between their breasts, nearly piercing their vulnerable human heart. Orocobix parried, but they over-extended, and the macana flew into the sky before tumbling down into the heart of the wreck.
Orocobix was unarmed.
The Astral approached, and Orocobix imagined that it hungered so greatly that it felt pain. But Orocobix knew better than to regard the Astrals as anything but mirages of the living, an amalgam of many lost tribes; the Siyno’USAh, the Ruso-EU, the undreaming machina they worshipped and even the Iber who sieged Orocobix’s little island in the cerulean. They were island-eaters.
Orocobix struck again. With one arm they grabbed the slithering proboscis, and with the other, they pried at the seams of the Astral’s spherical dome. Orocobix pulled with the strength of their ancestors, ripping the fell beast into many pieces, until its glass eye was freed.
It fell and cracked before going dim.
Orocobix glimpsed their reflection in the inert glass sphere. Atop their head rested a crescent-shaped carapace, the smiling face of Guayaba, ruler of the realm beyond death, hewn in red-clay. Living roots of yuca fell in gnarled braids below their waist as the hair of their human ancestors had in Jatibonicu. In the deep sockets of the ochre mask, Orocobix’s eyes fumed in hues of burnished amber, their black pupils shaped like slivered moons. Whereas the caciques had faces that terminated in rounded jaws and brown lips, the gold beak of an Inrirí jutted from the chin of Orocobix. Their body gleamed in a riot of color as they surveyed the wreck for other foes. Sweat poured down their neck, where a crimson-gold uanine amulet rested between scaly breasts. Orocobix repositioned their living headdress, drawing what sustenance they could from the pallid sun that lurked behind the chemical-doused clouds.
Just as Orocobix could feel the plant part of themselves making food from the sun, an Astral impaled their abdomen, its wriggling proboscis boring through flesh and sinew.
Orocobix roared with pain, whirling around to crush the Astral with the cracked eye that it had mistakenly thought destroyed. Even as the creature burst into flame and went still, Orocobix knew that it was too late. The Astral had fulfilled its purpose, and Orocobix had little time to spare to complete their errand.
Orocobix could feel venom seeping into their blood. While they slept, the Astrals had spread across sky and sea and land, corroding all that they touched until nothing lived in the universe without knowing the shadow of their decay. Like the Yurakans of old, they raged and swelled in a mighty cyclone that grew as it consumed. Unlike the deity-storms, however, whose calamitous ire gave way to righteous flourishing, the Astrals brought no renewal to the archipelagoes of the nightsea that they decimated. Orocobix cawed in agony, not at the unbearable sensation of death creeping into their body, but at the prospect of failure. For Orocobix now bore the weight of a civilization. They were the whole of the island of Borikén made flesh. Failure meant extinction.
But they had survived extinction before. They could survive it again.
The cassava net, like the ancient nasa used to trap fish in shallow waters, held the weight of Orocobix with ease as they nimbly strafed from lattice to lattice down the chasm. Pain slowed their descent into the derelict abyss. The cavernous dark of the machina did not trouble Orocobix, the plankton fused with their skin emitting a cobalt phosphorescence that rendered much of the expanse below visible. Instead, they found themselves haunted by a double-presence in their thoughts, an alien Other attempting to take hold. Orocobix’s limbs loosened, an enervation brought on by the toxin.
It was not long before Orocobix slipped, crashing in a burst of feathers and blood on the rusted jags at the bottom of the machinic wreck.
Orocobix drifted between planes, aware faintly of the hum of the reactor just meters away from their mangled body. A specter appeared. It took the shape of the first chief of the Iber to arrive on Borikén. The Colón, it called itself. Its pale skin was the hue of bone and its face was matted with black fur. It probed Orocobix’s mind, desperate to learn how Orocobix had evaded the Astrals for all these centuries. It sifted through the ancestral rivers. It prodded their memories, attempting to excavate the lost history of how the beings they called Taíno were not extinct as their machina-shamans had said.
Orocobix did not bother to resist the invader, but gave it what it wanted: A memory from then, the before, on the island of Borikén; a painted chief on the lush slopes of Lukiyó immolating himself, burning to ash the accumulated heirlooms of his fore-mothers and their brothers, burning the birds, and the corals, and the fish, and the cassava, and all that lived on the island of Borikén. The onlookers, the first victims of the Ibers’ blight, had collected up the ashes and stowed the remains of their leader in a calabash. They waited for the whirling Yurakan to come, beseeching it to carry the traces of Borikén into the turey beyond the sky. For many generations, the ashes drifted the nightsea, before metamorphosing into Orocobix, who then slept, waiting in the kanoa for the Iber who became Astrals to weaken.
And now Orocobix had awakened to sow Borikén anew in the sidereal archipelagos beyond the Ibers’ wrecked Terra.
The Colón kept plumbing deeper into Orocobix, seeking the hidden knowledge of ancestors, but Orocobix denied the Colón. They drank a vial of the Mabí, their only defense against the blight that was assimilating them thought by tremulous thought.
Having momentarily silenced the Colón and numbed the pain of their broken limbs, Orocobix stood to full height. Before them, the reactor churned, its viridian beacon lancing into the clotted sky. With each pulse of its fell light, the unworlding engine sapped the island’s vibrancy, assimilating all fugitive traces of life that resisted, snuffing out all the dreams of pink moss that sought to blanket their world in soft lush.
Orocobix limped forward, faintly aware of movement in their peripherals, even as blood oozed from their head. The Colón, now severed from their mind, had summoned the last of its Astrals to subdue Orocobix. The shambling figures, obscured in the dark, resembled the jellyfish that once bobbed in Yocahu’s tides. Orocobix reached for an object stowed away in a satchel of leaves on its waist.
The Astrals encircled Orocobix, their pulsing eyes emitting light erratically as they unsheathed their glittering tentacles, preparing to strike and devour the last of the Borikén.
Orocobix opened a folded flamboyan leaf. Within slept a cemí, a crescent of ochre stone. Through their entanglement with the Astral consciousness, Orocobix learned that Iber had once excavated a number of cemí, regarding them as inert stones fashioned in the likeness of false deities. Their true purpose had eluded the Iber and their Astral successors.
Orocobix tossed the cemí hewn with the smiling face of Guayaba into the reactor just as the metallic arachnids began to impale their body.
The blight coursed through Orocobix as it had their ancestors on Borikén, erasing their memories, replacing their limbs with iron nodes, their living cells with silicon micro-processors—but none of it mattered. The reactor quaked, and from the cemí sprouted the many emerald shoots of a Cojóbana tree in a radial arc that pirouetted upward, engulfing and dismembering Orocobix and the spindly Astrals as it leapt up toward the sun. The Cojóbana sprouted, carrying the remains of Orocobix with it, interring them in a living cocoon of bough and leaf, where they flourished, between dreaming and wakefulness, a Somnambulist.
The Cojóbana that was also Orocobix dreamt of Borikén, sowing their memory-vision into the calamitous flesh of the planet at the edge of the nightsea until, at last, Borikén was remade.