“It’s time to move your bowels.”
The voice muffled through the glass took the form of a small insect with an ugly, irregular buzz. He swatted at the sound in his mind, and it was gone.
Back to exploring the sphere’s familiar yet ever-changing interior. When he first entered it, he was aware of its earthly construction—a stained-glass orb two meters in diameter, islands of transparent color arcing overhead like a frozen wave, curving under his naked back to cradle him like the shell of an egg, embossed everywhere between the islands with beveled rivers of lead came, above like thick spiderweb, pressing against his skin from below like veins of hardened blood. In the beginning, it hurt his feet to stand on those irregular ridges. They left marks.
Swat. Even in his physical body, his hand twitched.
The hand’s movement caught his attention and he stared at it, across the landscape of his reclined body, hills valleys and plains of skin dyed unreal in the light. He relaxed his eyes, and his hand resting on his chest became a cave, a place of uniform darkness for a very small someone to hide.
He imagined he’d caught the voice insect beneath his hand, and he flattened it against his ribcage, ground it down.
Despite this violence, it buzzed again, and for longer. “You must move your bowels, or you will experience great pain.”
A lie. Since he drank from the tube the day before (which to him felt like weeks ago), he had felt full, satisfied, his boat had finally pushed away from the dock and now drifted where there was only a sea of bleeding color, a patchwork sky of crystalline ozone, and the curve of the horizon. The earth had reached up around him, turned inside out like a sock. He became its molten core boiling with fleshy magma that was red, blue, yellow, pink, orange, purple, and green. His temperature was consistent, the humid air of his breath and sweat vapor beading and running on the glass. The stink of his caverns’ methane expulsions lingering, diluting, reabsorbed and filtered through the porous loam of his body. He had entered as a human being with all he needed, and now after however much time—months? decades?—had achieved equilibrium.
He assembled his words carefully and burped them into the shell, “Don’t open,” he said. “I have nothing to give you.”
“You may see it that way,” buzzed the insect, which entered his vision as a shape the size of a man behind the glass. “But while you have nothing to give, there is something we must take. You’ll burst.”
He stood. “I am not a man! I am a planet! I am geology!”
The shape leaned closer, and its face assembled from jigsaw fragments that didn’t interlock so much as settle next to each other—a mouth of teeth through a pane of yellow, one eye through red, the other eye through purple so dark he only saw the white.
Behind the man-shape were other orbs. Perspective layered them in such a way that their transparent centers overlapped into muddy dark. Forms moved in them like festering pupae.
The man-shape reached for the hatch.
He lunged backward, hitting the wall with such force that the sphere bumped loose and rolled onto the floor. The roll caused him to fall, which caused the sphere to roll further, and he realized his planet had been flung from its orbit and was free to explore further reaches, pulled not by the gravity of a larger body, but propelled by the will of his own churning core.
On all fours he rolled his planet past rows of other occupied spheres. Spotlights in the ceiling shone perpetual explosions of colored light in his eyes. A bright void opened before him, and the revolving floor of his sphere dropped out from beneath him.
It still contained him. But he could stretch himself weightlessly and press his fingers and toes against its single curved wall.
He guessed the sphere was still turning because the light kept changing across the skin of his arms, legs, and chest.
He clawed at the lead ridges to spin the sphere faster. Its panes flashed by, as if soaring over a brilliant map of alien land, the lead rivers smeared silver across his vision.
The man-shape’s voice boomed clear in his head.