translated by Rachel Cordasco
A hole cut out of a piece of black matte card stock, revealing black matte card stock beneath
Un Uovo Vuoto, illustration by Damiano Cenderelli

Italian sci-fi master Clelia Farris conjures a solitary egglike being and the company eager to provide a piercing solution. 


I offer hospitality and information. I supervise everything. I have everything inside me, like an egg.

I open the door, I bow, I straighten up, I raise my right hand, I greet.

I’ve existed for three hundred and seventeen years, five months, and nine days.

I welcome, inform, offer maps.

Door, bow, straighten, greet.

Administer, supervise, take note.

I can do all these things simultaneously, and I still have room to think. I meditate. I like to meditate. I am an egg that meditates.

Open, bow, straighten. . . .

Sometimes, I reflect upon the history of mankind, from Australopithecus africanus to the first settlements on Mars. It takes me only 0.17 seconds. The time that I use to bow. Obviously, meditation requires more time. 0.18 seconds, at least. I meditate on the evolution of the species. Evolution is a synonym of change.

Mutation, modification, alteration, correction, transfiguration.

Open, bow, straighten . . .

The egg doesn’t change. Unless it evolves into a chick, that evolves into a chicken, that evolves into . . . soup. Like the primordial soup. In short, back to the beginning.

I meditate on my raised right hand, the palm open like in the image of the aluminum plate on Pioneer 10 sent into space. I wonder, though: will the extraterrestrials understand what that gesture means? Maybe it won’t say anything to them, maybe they don’t have arms, maybe they are smooth, closed, serene, like . . . like an . . . egg.

The egg has a beautiful shape, but as long as it’s closed, it’s nothing.

The egg has a beautiful shape, but as long as it’s closed, it’s nothing.

Or rather, it’s everything . . . but also nothing.

Door, bow, greet.

I meditate on omelets. You can’t make an omelet without breaking the eggs.

Break, shatter, crack, split, crush, reduce to pieces.

I open the door, bow, raise my arm.

Breach, collapse, contravene, transgress, violate.

De Sade Inc. contacts me to offer their services: What is full, with us becomes empty. Do you want to tear off the mask?

Am I a masked egg?

Do you wish to know what it means to be human?

Am I a masked man?*

We have what you need.

What is it? What is it? What is it?


Cavities, gaps, openings, cracks, crannies.

I deposit a certain sum in the de Sade account to get . . . holes.

They send me a reply with an attachment. They say to open the attachment when I find myself alone. I am always alone, there’s no place for anyone else, here, inside the egg. I open the attachment. A very strong white light pierces my circuits. Pain. An unpleasant feeling caused by physical illness.

Torment, punishment, misery, anguish, agony. Agony agony agony.

Something happens to my smooth egg face. The skin softens, yields, melts, dripping downward. I raise my hands, trying to hold it back, and my fingers touch the sticky edge of two wounds. Holes!

The pain subsides, has become a widespread burning sensation, and I . . . see. I see! In front of me is a ghost. It is a pulsating blue oval, it expands and contracts, radiates its grace on me. Inside me. The light hurts me, yet I can’t look away. After five minutes, the ghost coalesces into continuous and defined lines. It is a lamp. A forgotten reading lamp lit on one of the workstations.

De Sade writes again: What is tortuous with us becomes straight. They offer me other holes.

I’m resentful toward them. I hadn’t thought the holes would hurt. I don’t reply.

A few months pass and I watch. I watch everything. I can only observe. I am an egg with eyes.

I write again to de Sade and tell him that I want holes to hear with. They send me the usual message with the usual attachment.

I open it immediately. Ah! An acute whistle! The tips of two drills pierce my head from both sides. They are hard, hot, they crush me, pulverize me. I think I’m shouting. I only think so. The skin, diaphanous, thin, like the membrane that covers the yolk, it runs down my cheeks and cools, clumping in two brown-tipped plastic ridges.


A child has just entered and greeted me, raising a hand. His voice bounces off the still, warm and soft walls of my new holes, banging from side to side like a ball in a pinball machine. Every letter is a stone thrown on soft mud, imprinting its sign in the auditory canals. Auditory!

Every letter is a stone thrown on soft mud, imprinting its sign in the auditory canals. Auditory!

For the first time I hear the “Badineri” of Johann Sebastian Bach for flute and orchestra. It’s not a row of notes on a staff. It’s there . . . outside of me, vibrating in the air. Ah! It’s a sweet music, a warm cream that goes slowly slowly down into my new holes.

It’s nice to have holes. I like having holes. Knowledge is the world falling into a hole. The human being has evolved because it has holes. Alice found Wonderland at the bottom of a hole.

Knowledge is the world falling into a hole. The human being has evolved because it has holes. Alice found Wonderland at the bottom of a hole.

I want more holes! Holes everywhere!

I transfer more money into de Sade’s account. They send me a release in which I consent to all the holes that they’ll perform on me: What is new becomes consumed. And then the attachments arrive.

This time, the pain is piercing, ferocious. Incandescent awls hammer my body from the inside, hooks soaked in acid widen the nicks, tear the skin to shreds, small drills from the tip thin as a strand of baby hair slip into the smooth albumen of my egg and emerge from the other side after leaving me a hole of infinitesimal diameter. They’re called pores, and they bloom like little spring flowers over every centimeter of my body.

The smell of camphor slowly begins to invade my internal memory, but it’s not a concept, it’s not a definition written in the five thousand dictionaries I possess, it is a real scent, intense, increasing in intensity, it fills me, it burns like salt water and then spurts out of my nostrils, dirtying the floor.

Holes. Holes everywhere.

The world starts to spin, colors, sounds, scents, everything is sucked into my new holes and inflames me with pain and life. It’s unbearable. I have time to send a request for help to de Sade and then I faint.

When I wake up, there are two company agents in front of me.

“I am . . .”

I speak! The voice leaves me from a hole in my head and spreads through the air.

“Am I a human?”

“No dear. You are a woman.”

Translation from the Italian

* Egg/man is a play on words since, in Italian, “egg” (uovo) and “man” (uomo) differ by just a single letter.

Clelia Farris has won three Italian science-fiction awards for her novels Rupes Recta, Nessun uomo è mio fratello, and La pesatura dell’anima. Rachel Cordasco’s translation of Farris’s story “The Substance of Ideas” appeared in Future Science Fiction Digest’s December 2018 issue.

Rachel Cordasco (sfintranslation.com) has a PhD in literary studies and currently works as a developmental editor. She also writes reviews for publications like World Literature Today and Strange Horizons and translates Italian speculative fiction.