“The Blood That Pulses in the Veins of One”, JY Yang, at Uncanny

“The Blood That Pulses in the Veins of One” feels very much a spiritual successor to Arkady’s curated alien recommendation list; it also feels very close, thematically if not in structure, to Lynnea Glasser’s Coloratura. I wanted to keep thinking about communion as consumption, and about questions of voice and perspective and alienation in short fiction, and so I chose JY Yang’s story of capture, dissection, and cannibalism.

The protagonist of the story, who readers learn later is termed the Enforcer, has been captured by a group of (presumably human) scientists, intent on investigating the alien’s powers of regeneration. It is narrated entirely from the first person perspective of the restrained Enforcer, who addresses an unknown You, with interstitial inclusions of overheard dialogue from the scientists tasked with examining, exposing, and cataloguing its inner workings. The scientists are motivated, perhaps unsurprisingly, by curiosity, a rampant thirst for knowledge which in some cases overwhelms their obligations to the lead researcher. In this they are no different from the Outlaw whom the Enforcer has been sent to collect, the “you” addressed from the very beginning of the Enforcer’s desperate narration.

The Outlaw and Enforcer both come from an alien culture in which knowledge is created by consumption: by ingesting the flesh of their fellow creatures and thus absorbing their experiences. We are introduced to the phenomenon through the protagonist’s eyes, in a parallel dismemberment of the “you” to whom the story is consistently narrated. This comes after the narrator’s own sterile, invasive experiences with the prodding, curious humans. By contrast, this sparagmic dissection is ritualistic, loving, a blazon of the flayed parts. These creatures’ bodies are hybrid, chimeric, created by absorption and adoption; they fail to contain the truth of the Outlaw’s experiences, until the flesh is peeled back, until the viscera is exposed. Yang dwells on the specificity of the cannibalism; the rush of spinal fluid that bears visceral sense memories of Mars with it. It’s a deliberately unsettling intimacy; the memories are transferred, yes, but so is emotion, nameless and unformed and complex and impossible–

And it’s this emotion, this desire, which leads the Outlaw to break the commandment of their species, to save the memories they and their lover have consumed for themselves instead of sharing with their people. And the Enforcer, of course, is tasked with bringing them to justice: but by the time the Enforcer catches up to them, their civilization has crumbled, and enemies (which are, here, merely two sides of the same coin) are left as the only survivors. With only each other to preserve their history, their heritage, their customs, they are bound together in a web of mutual consumption.

It’s this specific manner of connection that drew me to “The Blood That Pulses In the Veins of One”; the simultaneous absorption of flesh with memory and emotion. The humans view our protagonist with fascination and exoticism, literally taking them apart to see how they work; in contrast, the devouring and acceptance that comes with it, the understanding that it brings, reads as empathy, as a gift. Yang’s use of person here offers that gift to the reader; the story mirrors the understanding which the Enforcer experiences throughout their relationship with the Outlaw by beginning with an “I” and “you” who the reader knows very little about. Told non-linearly, their relationship and how their connection works unfolds, and by the time we glimpse the Outlaw’s presence, the protagonist’s confessional narration feels targeted at the Outlaw: more an experience to be offered up for this consumption than the typical personal reflection on the development of a relationship which I’ve noticed the “I-you” structure often denotes. It feels as though the Enforcer has conjured their companion by the weight of their shared connection; that mutual consumption has rendered them, if not nearly psychic, then preternaturally empathic to the suffering of the other.

“The Blood That Pulses In the Veins of One” is inherently an optimistic story; it offers kindness and a model for growth and love and learning beyond the borders of the self, even when this comes twinned with self-annihilation, with death, with cannibalism. Yang asks us to consider and reconsider radically alternative models of love, of sacrifice, of empathy. It is the humans with their scalpels and cold merciless curiosity who pose a threat; not the endlessly-mutable, nearly-indestructible, almost-viral protagonist and their lover. Or perhaps they do pose a threat to humanity, or at least, to the version of humanity in the story, and just perhaps, that version of humanity deserves to be threatened, to be consumed, to grow and become something greater.