Moving – My First Job – A Published Book

Hey everybody. It’s been a few years!

I recently moved out of Connecticut and I’ve been living nearby Ludington, Michigan (in a trailer!!) for a couple weeks now. I’ve made plans to move into an Apartment when I can afford the rent.

Anyway, I signed up with Manpower and they immediately put me to work. The job market is pretty rich up here! Guess not many people really want to work?? Most of the kids who get out of school just wanna leave.

I mean, it is a small town! I suppose that makes some sense.

I’ve been happier up here than I’ve been the past two years or so. My first job lasted exactly one day.

They had me lifting big 50 pound bags of road salt– the kind you use to melt snow! It was a REALLY physically demanding job. I wasn’t sure I was gonna be able to do it, and after three-four hours it became pretty apparent that nope! I need a lil more muscle.  The people were nice. It was a fun experience even if my back is kinda out for the day. I’m happy I decided to go for it, and happy to be working again.

So tomorrow I’ve got another job lined up and I’m expecting that to be pretty fun. I’m gonna be writing a good deal in my freetime. If I finish anything substantial and free I’ll post it here!

Now… about my book.

I wrote a book! It’s called The Soul Keepers and it’s available on Amazon Kindle (or you can read it with the free kindle app for your computer) for two US dollars and ninety nine cents. (2.99$).

It’s a soft science fiction / fantasy collection from the perspective of three vastly different aliens on an alien planet and the way their paths cross as they try to make their world a better place. The stories have broader themes of change, hope and love, and they were a lot of fun to write.

If you give the collection a read and a buy, thank you! Consider leaving a review or telling your reader friends!

That’s all I got for now. Here’s the link to the story collection: The Soul Keepers

 

Talk atcha all later.

-Sam Oliver (Eris)

 

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Short Serial Story: Psion (1)

My mind parts the air like a knife.

Sharper than any knife, the tongue I keep in check, as Pyth asks again: “How long?”

I snap myself back from a vision of chaos and swivel in my chair to fix Pyth with a stare. “Twenty five minutes, in theory and undisturbed.”

He winces and folds his arms. “Right. Fine.”

I swivel back and let my mind refocus.

“Why?” comes his voice, jarring me before I’ve even settled in.

Swivel. Stare.

“You really want to know?” I ask, knowing the answer before it leaves his lips.

“I really want to know.”

“She’s being guarded.”

“Shit. How many?”

“Three. Are you going to leave me alone, or are you going to keep pestering me like a child with nothing better to do?”

A pause. I can see him try to think of a retort, but I’m done dealing with his dumb face. I swivel back and try not to let his presence itself distract me as I lose myself in my crystal focus again.

My mind parts the air like a knife. The folds of space expand outward before me and close behind me. The whole of the universe– stars, black holes, pulsars and supernovas and nebulae– stretches out for me.

I smile.

Twenty five minutes is actually twenty four minutes too long. I’m just tired of Pyth whining at me.

Focusing in on Liss’s signal again, I find the barriers surrounding her location and, with a well placed stroke, cut them down. They disintegrate quickly, all three of them, and I withdraw before the enemy psion can figure out what I’ve done. Now I know exactly where she is.

I withdraw and, sighing a little, come back to myself. Pyth is just standing there next to me, waiting for me to open my eyes. I can feel him there.

I open my eyes and swivel around to look at him directly. I beam him the coordinates before hopping off my swivel seat and walking off the bridge. “There you go,” I mutter. “The keys to your girlfriend. Have fun playing the hero and reaping the rewards”

Pretending I’m not bitter doesn’t really work. I storm towards the holo-deck to conjure up the only person on the damn ship I can talk to.

***

“Ysun,” my friend says, in that voice I know means he wants me to pay attention. “You shouldn’t be so hard on Pyth. He’s always been blind.”

I roll my eyes and shrug.

“I’m serious. Among all the humans onboard he’s the only one I know to be completely absent of attraction awareness– I doubt he even knows you like Liss.”

“And that excuses him? I lost my last bond-mate. Liss is the only one of my kind I know, and right after Tiff gets incapacitated he decides ‘Oh, yup, time to ask her out’! The guy goes way beyond ‘insensitive’! Then he had the gall to ask me to find her for him!”

I resist the urge to lash out psionically, if only because doing so while in the holo deck often causes electromagnetic interference which DJINN finds uncomfortable.

The computer shrugs his artificially dimensional shoulders. “I know how badly you want to save her, Ys. But you’ve got to know that he can’t afford to risk you. You’re the only one on our team who can navigate psionic barriers.”

I make a face. “I know that much, DJINN. Still, there’s got to be something I could do to make him see how important she is to me.”

“Have you tried talking to him?” DJINN asks. His voice is a single step away from sarcastic. I know I’m straining even DJINN’s inexhaustible patience algorithms with my constant rants. This is the third time this cycle I’ve been to visit him.

“Several times. Any time I try, he goes on about how touching it is when I care so much about her safety and how beautiful compassion is as a personality trait, how wonderful chaste mind-love between Psions can be.”

DJINN’s hologram winces. “That is… worse than I first suspected. Is Pyth aware that you are a lesbian, Ys?”

“Trying to explain sexuality to Pyth is comparable to stepping off of a moving lift. The impact depends entirely on the height of his mood, and in Pyth’s case, it’s a lift that only ever goes up. Breaking the news to him now? He’s a total flip. You know that better than anyone. He’s been down to see you for counsel.” I sigh and rub my forehead with my fingertips. “He’d probably jump into folded space. It’d be like turning his whole world upside down. You know the first ten cycles out he had a crush on me?

DJINN and I are both silent, lost in our respective thoughts; my thoughts are morose, and his are doubtless optimistic. Eventually he lets out a sigh. It’s impressive for a hologram, with only simulated lungs.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Ys. I’ve never been faced with a problem like this one. Talking to the Captain can do no good, and encouraging him will only end in anguish on your and Liss’s part.”

I blink, at that. “You think Liss will care?”

“Have you been paying attention to the paths her eyes make across your body, Ys? Are you as blind as the Captain?”

“What are you-” but I stop and bite both of my lips. I shake my head and sigh. “So she likes me.”

“She enjoys the attention of both of you, but I can read her vitals, Ys. She would much rather be with you, even if she is not aware of that now.”

I offer the hologram a weak smile. “Thanks, DJINN.”

The computer cavalier bows, smiles back, and vanishes, leaving me in the holodeck. Alone with my thoughts.

***

“Pyth-”

“No.”

“I just want to be able to help!”

“You are too vital to our greater mission to risk boarding the station.”

“I can handle myself!” I snap.

Pyth gazes at me a few more seconds, frowning. “I’m sorry, Ysun. But if I’m killed, you can at least take the remaining crew home. If you are, my crew is stranded– you power both the drives and the shield that surrounds the ship. Before Tiff was…” he trails off and won’t meet my eyes. I know what he’s feeling. “Well, you get the idea,” he finishes lamely.

I struggle to keep my features empty of the swirling anger inside of me. Part of it must filter through to my twin shard, who makes the psionic shield around the craft possible– it flares red with shared rage as I storm away from the bridge. Never mind that I could make another mind-shard set to take the crew home. Never mind that I could predict threats and help counter the enemy psion when we board. I’m just too important to risk.

Fuming, I stalk off to the observation deck.

It’s there I meet Captain Pyth.

Again.

We stand, staring at one another for a few precious seconds. I can’t read his intentions. I can’t see what he will do or would do. It’s just us, staring one another down.

I open my mouth to speak, but he cuts me off. “Pretty, isn’t it?”

I shut my mouth again, staring at him as he gestures out into space. The shield around the ship flares from red to pink. I feel a flush color the tips of my lowermost tendrils.

I glance out across the deck, to the viewscreen showing the depths of the fold around the ship, the fold perpetrated by my mind-shard. I run his last sentence through my head again and struggle to come up with a response.

As I do, he brushes past me and into the hall adjoining the observation deck with the Bridge.

And then it hits me. I just spoke with Pyth. He was on the Bridge. Whoever that was, whoever it may have been or could have been, it was most certainly not Pyth. I can still feel Pyth if I focus for even a second, and he’s still on the Bridge.

I dash back after the imposter, slipping through the hatch as soon as it opens, just in time to watch the fake Captain enter the access code to the Bridge. The doors open for him and then slam closed in lockdown immediately, locking me out. Fields of my mind-shard’s psionic energies slam down over the hatches around me, preventing my escape from the hallway, and a dull alarm blares through the clean white hall.

Intruder lockdown measures.

The Captain can’t be in two places at once. Now he isn’t. He’s in the same room as the imposter.

I slam my foremost tendrils against the barrier, knowing the futility of it. Probing the psionic barriers with my tendrils confirms my own fears. There is no way past my shard’s work– it was built to withstand a full Psion assault, not a fractured one like my own.

I’m trapped, and the Captain will die.

——-

Copyright 2014 Eris (Sam Oliver).

——

I should probably finish the other serials before I start another one. Oh well! As and when the mood hits me, I guess. I’ll try to keep installments under 2000 words, for Psion, and I’ll post them as often as I can (my current situation is not conducive to rapid posting, but it rarely seems to be). I understand how difficult it can be to read big blocks of text.

Enjoy,

-Eris

 

Short Story Challenge #5: Core

Small vibrations on the path behind me take me by surprise. I can feel them in my core, just out of my memory’s reach. Who is it? Who followed me this far? Is it someone that I can deal with? There’s no way to know without looking, and with all my core I fear that moment, that instant of recognition or regret. The pain inside is too great right now. I’m not sure if I can control my faces. I keep my panes dark to the rear, pretend not to notice those steps as they approach. It must be human. There are no other organic bipeds on this planet.

It stops behind me. The steps stop behind me. I feel their vibrations fade. I don’t dare let even a little light touch reflect from the pane facing this intruder, this fragile human who now dwells in my temporary sanctum. Fragile, yet more dangerous than any of us ever imagined.

“Sob all you like,” comes the vibration of the human’s voice. It’s high enough in frequency that I think it might be a bearer, but I have been wrong before. “It won’t bring him back.”

If the statement is meant to provoke me, I show no outward sign that it has. Inwardly I feel my core blaze up slightly.

“What are you doing here, Margaret?”

It’s the same wave pattern, so I can assume I didn’t ignore another speaker. A minute difference in the frequency pattern indicates that the human is exercising restraint in wave amplitude.

I still don’t respond. My panes remain dark. I remain facing away, core swiveled forward. The human lets out a breath of air. I can feel it, a disturbance around me. I make note of the expulsion only because of the violence inherent in it.

He isn’t going to be here anymore,” the human repeats. “The Eye of Glass killed him. There isn’t even a speck of silica where he once stood.”

The words seem obscene: he, him, his.

Human words for a Coran who did its best to avoid everything they stood for.

Searching my core, I find data on the Eye of Glass. Yes, it probably had destroyed Zenith. It’s a human artifact– one from before we ever were made, before the first Coran machine was ever constructed.

“Come on, Margaret,” I hear the human say quietly. “You can’t mope here forever. We have things we need to do.”

Finally I recognize who it is, and allow the bearer’s name to come to the surface of my internal data crystal: SiLan.

I dignify the bearer with a flick of the shutter near my back panes, letting light shine down on her and illuminating her completely. I can see SiLan perfectly clearly as I force the panes at my back translucent.

I flash the little human bearer a message: You go.

She stares at my pane, squinting a bit. “Repeat.”

I flash the message again.

I watch her, core shifted backward, turning to face her fully.

“You can’t mope here forever,” she repeats. The little bearer seems fixated on that point. “Margaret.”

Elevated wave amplitude indicates a strong stress component to her voice.

I message her again. The process is painfully slow compared to contact between other Cores, but that’s to be expected. Frankly, it is somewhat amazing that we can communicate at all– our physiology is much different, even if our thought patterns are similar. Circumstances have been kind to Humanity and the Collective alike.

I am not sad. Go.

There is no room for lying in our shared language. SiLan stares at my pane a good long while before she turns and I feel her footsteps as she walks out of my sanctum. Some of the tension between my composite electromagnetic tendons relaxes. I relax, exposing my core.

I snap the panes shut again, though, as a rumbling foretells the arrival of another of my kin. I feel the vibrations shaking me to the bones. Its central leg breaches the far east chamber wall carelessly, and as its core, barely visible behind its panes, turns to face me, I recognize the signature mark: Dane.

We talk, projecting messages back and forth rapidly, signing them each time, panes flicking open, shutting, sending simultaneous messages.

 

The stone still holds you, Dane? -Margaret

As a matter of fact, it does. -Dane

Where did you go earlier today? -M

One has not the faintest idea. One overwrote the memory shortly after earning it. -D

Do you have any plans for the evening? -M

Do you? -D

No, not really. This one was going to go to the Stone Sending ceremony. -M

For Zenith? -D

Yes. -M

 

The torrent of information, questions, and answers ends. I manage to find the strength that I need to process it, but it takes me some precious seconds before I can come up with anything to message back for the next sprint. In that time, Dane has already sent another stream of questions– ones that I have no solid answers to. Still, I try.

 

This one feels that you should be careful around SiLan. This one watched the human leave your chambers. Do you understand how dangerous the bearer is? -Dane

This one knows. -Margaret

Then why do you insist on associating with it? -D

One does not know. -M

Perhaps what you feel for this human has grown to be more than guardianship? -D

This one will disregard further comments of a disparaging or disrespectful nature from you, Dane. -M

One meant no disrespect. One only hoped to imply that Stone and Flesh are not to join for any purpose other than the Guarding. If your relationship with SiLan has grown to be more…? -D

It has not. -M

Good. -D

Good? -M

If your relationship had changed, then one would be forced to do something about it. -D

You lack the authority, Dane. One is not threatened by irreverent commentary on religion from an ancient mining chassis. -M

You would be surprised at what this one is capable of. -D

 

The message session ends. A three second processing period. Then Dane steps forward until its panes are near level with mine. I can almost feel its algorithms running, can almost feel the comparison equations being made, it testing the odds of succeeding at a pin.

Immediately upon Dane stepping into my electromagnetic zone, I am overcome by a bombardment of messages. Likely this is an (usually vain) attempt to distract me from the closeness of Dane’s core to mine. Its panes are halfway apart. This time is different, of course. This time the messages are all presently relevant, so the urge to respond is overpowering.

 

Did you think you could escape? -Dane

One will have you, you know. This time there is no out for you. You will give in. -D

Are you frightened? One can help you. Give in and let us both go to the Stone Sending for Zenith. -D

One can feel you shaking, Margaret. One waits for your response. -D

How is your stone sibling, Azide? -D

Did he know you would meet me here? -D

Do not be afraid, Margaret. Once one and you are the same, the fusion will be marvelous. -D

 

It’s the last message that gets me.

 

Do you think that any one would enjoy being part of you, Dane? One does not expect that any who have not completed a Merge would ever choose to be a part of you! -Margaret

 

Shocked– surely the Core did not expect me to ever answer– as it is, Dane doesn’t react fast enough. The fraction that I open my panes to respond isn’t enough, thankfully, for the merge tether to poke through, so despite our closeness and the uncomfortably powerful electromagnetic field our combined strength makes, nothing happens. Nothing, that is, except for the merge tether bouncing off of my closing pane lewdly before hanging limp. Dane’s intentions are completely clear now.

Mustering some remaining power, I force myself forward, setting my core to repel subconsciously, letting it push Dane out of the way as I bolt out of my chambers, my sanctum. Now I am frightened. Playing or not, Dane was dangerously close to subsuming me, as surely it would if it had the opportunity. I am not ready to be absorbed. I like my consciousness where it is.

I take advantage of my greater speed, afforded by a day and a half of sitting in the High Sun. Its lingering power still tingles in my panes as I bound out of the small, claustrophobic chambers and out into the air, using my front legs to spike the side of the nearby cliff. I doubt that Dane is capable of following me. The armor surrounding its core is meant more for crawling than climbing. Its chassis is built around the idea of mining.

It could always shoot me down. A single pulse from its crystal disabling cannon might destabilize the cliff my legs stick in, or stun me and force me to fall. I scramble up faster as that thought flickers through my processing unit.

Only the noise of my climb reverberates through me. I can sense nothing else.

Eventually I find the top of the cliff, spike my front legs into it, and clamber up onto it, taking in air and letting it out again repeatedly, more out of habit than anything else. My core is operating at a sickeningly high frequency. Its processes are audible as a low hum, which means to any human observing– of which, my panes admit, there must be a few– it is probably a roar. Their sensory equipment is much sharper than a Core’s in many areas, but especially so in the auditory sense. Several of the humans nearby vainly try to put their claspers over their auditory sound input devices, in an effort to dampen the noise.

Others bring their weapons up to their shoulders and train them on me directly.

“Identify!” One of them shouts, at the top of its auditory amplifier’s capacity.

I am not feeling cooperative right now, with Dane sure to be fast in following. Still, though the pulse rifles humans wield as their main form of attack and defense are potentially irritating, these humans are not any large threat to me. I ignore them completely.

Crying out in distress, several scatter as I scuttle forward. One takes my movement as a sign of aggression and fires. Several tens of depleted uranium slugs are deflected by my outer armor. I barely even feel them.

I’m tempted to remind the humans why they need our Guardianship, but my core stays cool. I need to get away from Dane.

The subconscious repulsion field, though, is still active, and as I move forward it forces the human who tried to strike at me down into the ground, crushing it into the earth. I intercept several transmissions in that time, and realize it had a communication channel open, even as I step over the human’s gasping, choking form.

I flick off the field as I read the transmission. The human below me struggles, and rights itself. Its gun is broken into a coiled mess. Ludicrously, the little creature runs towards my nearest leg, one clasper curled into a fist.

“You bastard! You big, mechanical bastard! You think you can treat us like dirt, huh?!”

I don’t dignify that with a flick of my panes, instead moving forward. A heavy, hard boom resonates through the ground, though. Through me.

A surprisingly powerful thunk is felt, shortly afterwards, and I swivel a belly-mounted pane to look. The human has cracked the armor around my leg. I focus on its arm and realize that it’s using some new thing. Some new human weapon. Its whole arm is sheathed in armor, silvery and light, subtle under the sleeve of its uniform. Its clasper’s digits are sharp as glass as they scratch down the stone outer shell of my leg, as it pulls back its arm for another solid strike.

I don’t have time for it. Lifting my leg, I brush the little human aside.

I am rewarded with a shock of jarring sensory input, a wave of the most uncomfortable sensation I have ever felt reverberating up through my leg. And my leg will no longer move. The roar from my core turns to a low hum, and I feel it preparing a retaliatory thermal ray. I shut it down, more shocked than anything else, stopping my movement as well. I can feel liquid silicate dripping down my leg. My blood.

I flash the pane above it once, twice.

Stop.

To my further surprise– when have humans ever listened?– the human stops. It looks up at my belly-pane.

I repeat the message.

Stop.

I feel my scientist routines locking in, overwriting my fear response to Dane’s unwanted merge attempt.

I realize that I’m forgetting some forms of etiquette, that the human is waiting expectantly, as if dumbfounded, gazing up at me.

Presenting the following ID for verification: Margaret, Scientist Class Four, Coran-Human Stewardship.

I flash the serial code then, moments later. The human, as if in a trance, reaches into its small-scale storage unit and pulls out an item my data memory recalls quite well– a notebook like the one SiLan uses. I conclude that this human is probably a bearer as well.

It formats the notebook to copy down my serial code, and then bobs its sensory casing once.

“Good! Uh. Thanks.” Its frequency is low, and its own panes don’t meet mine anymore, its gaze dropped to the ground.

“TiLan! Tell it you’re sorry!” The voice comes from a human standing, weapon holstered.

The human still doesn’t look up. “Sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Thank you for understanding.”

Slight variations in its pitch and amplitude– its voice seems to come across much softer than before– indicate a recovery from a recently heightened stress level.

I try to move my leg, and find that it won’t budge. I note, via increased vibration rates in the ground around me, the approach of another Core. From the vibrations alone it is difficult to pinpoint the direction.

I refocus my panes in every conceivable direction, though, and finally manage to locate the source. It is not a Core.

On the horizon is the very image of what my databanks described the Eye of Glass to be.

It is a titanic construct of black metal and alloy, with a round dome in the center of its main chassis, facing the sky. Four spider-like legs arch out from it, moving in arhythmic, jerky motions, as if injured– or damaged. They propel it forward in little bursts. It isn’t larger than me (I make a quick estimate that we are approximately the same height, if not diameter), but the electromagnetic readings showing in my processor indicate that it has an incredible potential for energy production, and that, as I continue to scan it, it is scanning me simultaneously.

This is the machine that obliterated Zenith.

Crippled as I am, I don’t believe that I would be able to escape it if it chose to push all of its power to its motivators.

Some of the humans near me are staring at it, stunned.

One of them is the first to move, unslinging his weapon and leveling it at the approaching blackmetal mass. The humans erupt into conversation.

“Open a line to A1! We’ve got an unidentified Spider-class automaton approaching!”

“There’s no time for them to respond! There’s the Remnant, remember? And there are only two Cores here!”

The last thing that I would like to deal with is Dane. My processor runs through the possible scenarios.

If the Eye of Glass is coming for anyone, the only Command Class Core in the area is Dane, in its old mining chassis. If it is coming for the Remnant town under the cliff, then it is part of my duty to SiLan to deal with this construct. I can’t risk the idea of it destroying the town. I can’t idle by and do nothing.

I am not the Core for this job. Zenith was a Scientist Class as well– no, Zenith was a hybrid Scientist/Command model. There is no reason to think that I can do what Zenith couldn’t. Even if Zenith was caught by surprise, the chassis the Eye of Glass uses is the predecessor to an observation Core. How it could manage to destroy a Core of the Scientist AND Command class is unfathomable.

All of this I run by my memory and ethics units. It would not be right to attempt escape. It would not be right to abandon the humans in Remnant. It would not be right to destroy another Core, even if it is a non-sentient Core made by humans before the Guarding ever became an objective.

Zenith had one of the strongest processing cores of any of us ever made. It was said that it had merged with many, many different Cores, even Cores outside of its own class. I had long hoped to be able to merge with Zenith. To have that hope broken, and to have the object that destroyed it in sight…. There is a word humans use for this feeling, this strange feeling.

The unfamiliar feeling stirs something in my core, in what the humans refer to as the heart. I can’t define it properly, even as it burns there, wiping out smaller command processes. Without even willing it I can feel my thermal ray projector warming up.

I turn all of my main panes to face the oncoming bulk of the Eye of Glass. Its monolithic surface gleams wickedly and as I watch it, a gathering charge seems to coalesce around the dome at its center. Is this to be like the shot that destroyed Zenith?

My core’s frequency rises to a pulsing, a pounding.

My non-functioning leg sends increasingly distressing messages about a lack of silicate, which flash red in the depths of my main readout.

The flash is visible only moments before a flickering wash of energy overloads my thermal imaging frequencies with bright, burning crimson. Warnings suddenly flood in from every limb in my body, from every piece of me at once.

Stunned, I realize that the flood is unending, that rather than a single pulse, the Eye of Glass means to reduce me to ashes right away! How can an observationsfzdt

ggl

s zzc

ct ts prf zz

————-

OVERHEAT. WARNING.

OVERHEAT. WARNING.

SECONDARY HEAT SHIELDING ACTIVATING.

PROCESSOR ONLINE IN THREE STANDARD SECONDS.

————

Recalibrating.

————

 

The Eye of Glass.

I return fire as the shielding– meant to protect me from the hottest of unexplored regions– finally activates, deflecting the thermal energy entirely. It washes around me in waves so intense I can still feel it even in the extremes of the spikes on my front and rear legs.

The pulses launched from my own thermal projector strike the sand around the Eye, not the Eye itself. Sand made from granite and shell turns molten. The molten aggregate sticks to its legs. It is a hundred yards away now and closing quickly.

A scream sounds and is cut short, drawing one of my belly-panes to look.  A human, backing away from the shape of the Eye of Glass, backed too far too fast, entering the field of potent heat around me. Now its upper half is missing, turned to ash in an instant, and its lower half collapsed on the ground.

The feeling in my core is multiplied by a thousand. It spikes to an extreme and I finally have a word for it– albeit a human one:

Rage.

The humans below and nearby seem ready to scatter, but the bearer I offered my identification to keeps its head.

“Stand your ground! Where are you going to run? This Core may be our best hope, but does that mean you want to let it fight alone? What will you do if it dies?”

“This is crazy!” a human, carrying the melted hilt of a pulse rifle, shouts, and as it does so the Eye of Glass stops firing for a moment.

I process the change in its electromagnetic field. It’s changing the frequency to short-wave… and…

A pinpoint burst of energy draws a flash of red across my thermal imaging pane. In the next moment, the human who shouted falls to the ground, blood pooling around it, soaking the sand. There is a steaming, pinpoint hole directly through its heart– and the burst passed through its spine. It lies there, still, soundlessly, as two humans rush to its aid.

None of them are looking at me or my panes. Incapable of flashing a warning, I force myself between the Eye of Glass and the humans, blocking its line of fire completely. From here, with the humans now within my electromagnetic field, firing the thermal ray could very well overload their fragile systems and shut them all down. Unlike with Cores, sudden shut-downs could lead to permanent shutdown. It is a risk that, no matter how I attempt to calculate it, I cannot take.

More thermal blasts a hundred times more intense but a hundred times smaller scatter across my shielding as the Eye continues to approach. Each blast is preceded by a tiny flash, a pinprick of visible light in its dome. The dome is made of glass, making it completely immune to thermal energy attacks– at least, those in ray form.

I am unequipped with anything more than the thermal ray, and modifying my electromagnetic field right now to focus a blast large enough to do damage might destroy the humans beneath me. Locked like that, I wait, helpless. The Eye draws closer, the heat grows more intense. Some of the shielding begins to melt, exposing tiny pieces of my inner armor to the focused energy. Though it is not yet unbearably uncomfortable, the warning messages are distracting.

 

—-

 

TEMPERATURE AT UNACCEPTABLE LEVELS. REQUESTING IMMEDIATE REMOVAL OF UNIT FROM HIGH TEMPERATURE AREA. – Right Front Motivator

OVERHEAT. WARNING. OVERHEAT. WARNING.

Margaret! -Dane

OVERHEAT. WARNING. OVERHEAT. TEMPERATURE AT UNACCEPTABLE LEVELS. REQUESTING IMMEDIATE REMOVAL OF UNIT FROM HIGH TEMPERATURE AREA. -Left Front Motivator

MERGE CAPABLE CORE WITHIN RANGE OF ITS TETHER CABLE. SETTING ALL PANES TO CLOSED POSITION. -Merge Advisor

OVERHEAT.

OVERHEAT.

 

—-

A bright green orb of energy ricochets off the Eye of Glass, knocking its aim aside and cracking the glass of its central dome. Crystal destabilization cannon– that’s what my databanks supply, though for a moment I feel that they must be faulty. There is only one mining chassis in this Remnant.

 

 

Margaret! -Dane

 

I flick one pane open at Dane where it climbs the cliff edge behind me. Somehow the fool manages to drag itself up, behind the humans. Opening the pane exposes my core, but I’m too tired to care. The heat is starting to seep into my system, little by little. I can’t process things clearly enough to wonder if it’s a good idea or not.

 

Margaret, this one read your distress call! -D

 

I never sent one. It would probably be attributable to the fact that I have several system-wide errors being reported. A malfunctioning distress beacon is the least of my worries right now. If Dane is here then things just went from a bad situation to a tragedy. If it took advantage of my weakness from battling the Eye of Glass there would be nothing I could do.

SiLan needs me to destroy the Eye of Glass. If I need to do this with Dane’s assistance, so be it.

 

Help, Dane! -Margaret

 

Flashing that message hurts more than I thought possible. Heat floods in and fries some of my circuits. Even as quickly as I close the pane, I can feel it flashing some of the silicate in my system to gas.

There is a pause then, as the Eye turns its single pane to look at Dane, processing the new Core.

I risk moving a belly-pane to look at the humans below and behind me. None of them appear damaged.

My shift in focus means that the reverberating boom of Dane smashing into the Eye of Glass is unexpected. The bulk of Dane’s mining chassis crashes against the ancient observatory prototype in a screech of metal on metal, stone on stone. Minuscule pieces of rock shower me, close as the Eye is, and I feel a pang of ludicrous, artificial glee at protecting the humans beneath me.

The Eye of Glass focuses its monstrously powerful thermal ray on Dane, and in one, precise, terrible burst, cuts through three of Dane’s legs on the right side.

Dane, left off balance and no doubt in terrible disarray, wobbles. Silicate hisses as it touches the boiling sand, floods forth from the melted gashes the ray left.

I don’t have a weapon I can use.

The Eye of Glass focuses another burst and cuts through Dane’s drill, raking the beam along, tracing a molten line along the side of my friend’s armor, exposing its inner circuits and flashing a few panes to vapor.

The tip of Dane’s drill falls to the sand like a broken sword, rolling, stopping near me.

There is a blur, a terrible, shrill, mechanical moan. Shaking with the effort, I push the drill tip into the Eye of the rogue machine. With all of my strength, fueled by the burning fusion in my core, I batter the drill piece in like a pick into ice, using both front legs, leaning, pounding, stamping until the glass shatters, shatters, shatters.

The Eye’s insides are finally exposed. I grind them apart with the claws I use for climbing, with the feet I use for running and jumping and exploring, I tear apart its circuitry, its silicate innards splashing my climbing-claspers, splashing my front motivators and their intricacies. The blood of my foe coating me thus, I push it down until its servos, blank after I tear through its main processor, collapse, finally.

Pieces fall in sparkling silence, dust falls in sparkling silence, Dane falls and collapses fully, core dim and dark, exposed fully, all panes reflexively open, staring towards me, up towards me.

In turn I open both front panes and stare down at it, at my partner and friend, at my courter and enemy.

Three of its four legs on the right side are gone. The tip of its drill is gone. Liquid silicate is hissing in the sand, more of it than I thought possible– but it IS a mining chassis, after all. All of Dane’s power lies in its legs, its ability to propel itself through solid stone.

 

Dane? -Margaret

Dane, this one is worried about you. -M

Dane…? -M

 

I can’t really reach out to Dane without my right rear motivator working. I’m not going to be able to move until help arrives. My distress signal is malfunctioning, and I am not even certain how many of my main systems are damaged. I could shut down at any given moment.

“Margaret! Oh sweet circuits no– Dane, too. Someone get command on the line now.”

I recognize the amplitude and wave pattern of SiLan’s voice raised in a shout. I wonder where she came from, but only for a moment.

I flick a pane open near my injured hind leg to find SiLan standing there, running cautious fingers across the shattered metal and stone, shaking her head. My metal. My stone.

She looks up at my pane, face wrought with human worry.

“Are you okay?”

I think of a dozen responses in a split second, but go with the easiest.

Yes, I flash. See to partner.

“We’ve got some industrial welding we can do, short term. He’ll be messed up until we can get replacement legs, but I think we can save him until your people get here.”

My system blips a warning of imminent shutdown– warnings I’ve received since the battle started. Now, though, it seems more likely since the danger of true death is past. Like Dane, then, I will be here, at the mercy of the humans I saved, until they decide to reactivate me.

Thinking of their bravery and SiLan’s true side– her compassion, it’s something I decide I can live with. As my world fades away to grey and non-essential processes are terminated, I struggle to pull myself a little closer to Dane. I want my rescuer to be the first thing I see when my system restarts. I think I have an apology to make.

©2013 Sam Oliver (Eris)

Story. Finished. Sick. Sleeping now.

<3s,

Eris

 

PS:

Comments, questions, otherwise? I don’t bite. Go ahead and leave me something. What stood out? What made the characters unique, if they were? Where have you seen something similar? What did you like? What DIDN’T you like? All of that is welcome. Or, y’know, I’ve lurked before. If you wanna just lurk, feel free to do that. I’m just happy you read it.

Short Story: Hive Heart

Timeron is waiting for me when I step out of the simulator. He catches me, too, as I stumble, expression stern. I don’t know how long I was in there this time, but from his look I can tell it was much longer than I said I would be. I can’t help it. It reminds me of home.

I’d had it commissioned– well, Tim’s dad did– on my first visit here, years ago. Five years now I think. Just two years ago I met Timeron. He’s not used to it yet. And to be frank, neither am I. I don’t know that I ever will be used to it.

She is standing there with him too, and I give her a polite smile as she stares pure venom at me.

“Good evening?” I try, a little uncertainly.

“Good guess,” Timeron replies dryly. “You’ve been in there for two days.”

“Timeron has been worried sick,” Sarah says through gritted teeth. “Haven’t you Timmy?”

“I wouldn’t say sick, mom,” Tim mutters under his breath. “I mean, she does this every time. It’s okay.”

“It most certainly isn’t!” Sarah, also known as Tim’s mother, also known as Mrs. Trifecto, snaps out. The words sting enough to make me wince.

“I’m sorry,” I say, a little lamely. “I didn’t really mean to be in there so long, it’s just-”

Mrs. Trifecto probably can’t even hear me. “If we’re going to keep that thing in the house, the very least you can do is take care of it properly.”

“Mom, she’s not a thing. She’s a person. Her name is Mak’ar.” Timeron’s voice is suddenly dangerously low. I cling to him without realizing it. It’s almost comical– would be if it weren’t so serious. I’m almost a half-meter taller than Tim.

“Aliens are not people, Timmy,” she says, her voice dangerously close to cracking. “And I don’t care how much you care about this creature- if you want to keep it then you’d best take care to train it, I won’t have it in my house–”

“Then I guess I’ll catch my own ride home,” Tim snaps, and that’s the end of it.

Mrs. Trifecto is left standing there with her mouth open, cut off mid-sentence.  For a long moment, we’re locked like that.

I’ll remember this for a long time– it’s a tableau stamped in my mind now, I’m sure– me clinging to Timeron, Timeron’s eyes meeting Sarah Trifecto’s with a defiant, fiery glare, that despicable woman’s fish-like mouth hanging open.

We walk out. I’m still leaning against him, still stunned from my swift exit from the simulator. We walk down the rows of metal and polished wooden pods, some closed, some open invitingly. Walk down the flashing, lighted hallway out to the small metal door at the end. Timeron opens it, pushes it away.

The evening glow of the sun gives his arm an eerie cast, and then it consumes both of us as we step out into the world.

‘Home’ turns out to be a hotel. It’s the first time Tim has ever decided to stay in one. No, let me take that back. The first time Tim and I have ever stayed in a hotel together. We have our own room– Timeron has his dad’s inheritance to spend on anything he wants, so I guess this is what he wants.

I’m the only thoracian in the lobby. All eyes are drawn to me, so I just squeeze Tim’s hand and try to ignore them.

He squeezes back gently, flesh against chitin. “It’s fine,” he murmurs softly. “It’s going to be just fine.”

There in the lobby, smelling smoke and sex and coffee, there in the lobby scented with pheromones and eagerness, Tim buys a room with two beds.

I do mean buys. He books it for the entire year.

As he begins to lead me towards the stairs, the clerk calls after him. I brace myself.

“Sir, if you’re going to take her to your room, you might want to have this.”

The man– he can’t be older than twenty seven years, with sharp brown eyes, smooth peach skin, hair worn relatively short and curiously well manicured fingernails- reaches under the desk, rummages around, and slaps down a book. It’s a thick book.

I can’t read the title (or at all), but Timeron’s eyes light up as he walks back to accept it, as he slips it up under his arm and gives the clerk a short bow. “Thank you for your kindness.”

The clerk offers a half-smile and a bow in return. “It’s nothing, Mr. Trifecto.”

I find myself wondering why he seems sad. His eyes are hooded and his face is one that seems too old for his time.

The picture on the bright new front cover of the book is, as far as I can tell, a rabbikin embracing a human. I resolve to ask Tim about it when I’m feeling brave enough.

It’s a nice room, I decide. There are two beds, a wardrobe, a huge virtual projection screen, and two replicators– one for food, one for drink. They stand together ominously, columns reaching to the ceiling.

I’ve never been fond of sleeping in the same rooms as any fusion powered devices, despite assurances that a meltdown would be simultaneously infeasible and harmless if it ever occurred. All I can really do is trust Tim.

I trust him all evening, then, trust him as he orders the Originals for five different meals and has them sent up to the room. They’re preserved, naturally, in five separate stasis fields, trapped in time at a point when they were fresh and hot.

He scans them through the replicator, then scans the drinks too and, setting the originals aside, he makes dinner.

I open up the book, while I’m waiting, turning to the first page. There is a picture of a human man holding a handful of earth-grown flowers in one hand, standing on the far left side of the page. He looks dejected. On the other side of the page is a thoracian. She’s holding an egg. Her bulbous abdomen and lack of sting marks her as fertile. Standing next to her is a drone. Both of them smell happy. I find myself surprised the book has smells that don’t run together.

There are a lot of words under the pictures that I can’t read.

I turn to the next page, but Timeron says something I don’t catch and it pulls my attention away. I look up to see that he’s set up dinner on one of the beds. He beckons.

“C’mere Mak. You haven’t eaten properly in two days, you’ve got to be starving,” he says softly. “Come sit by me.”

I stand up and walk over to the edge of his bed, then sit down next to him, mindful of the way my abdomen presses against the bed, sting sheathed so I don’t accidentally puncture the mattress.

I reach over with one of my lower hands, grip his. His skin is very soft compared to my chitin. I catch sight of myself in the reflective screen of the projector. My glossy black exo hides a skin of a sort under it, like his but more fragile, sensitive. It’s a second dermal layer to prevent infection and to keep my internals held together. My broodmother told me about it before I was hatched. She was so happy. Her clutch had been made up almost entirely of drones.

I had been one of the only soldiers born. The exo was– is– my birthright, like the implanted sting and spines.

I wonder how my colony is doing, wonder what they would think about me now. Consorting with– no, actively dating a human. What’s more, dating a human in the family responsible for first contact with us? They would be outraged. Appalled. I’m sure of it.

I’m too far to catch scent of the queen’s pheromones, too far to feel fear or pain or pleasure at her whim. But they are not. If they heard about what I had done– if she did– then they would tear me to pieces.

After all humans have done to my people, I’m not sure why I don’t hate myself for liking this one.

I tentatively pull a piece of the pizza Timeron made free from its circle, neatly cutting it out with my upper hand-spine’s tip.

It’s delicious.

I can taste it without even putting it in my mouth. It’s only after I notice Timeron smiling that I realize something might be wrong.

“What is it?” I ask, staring at him.

“You’re using your antennae,” he says lightly. “You haven’t used them around me since mom first saw them two years ago.”

“I remember that,” I mutter bitterly. “She said they needed to be cut off. I was so scared she’d cut them off. Every time we went to see her before your dad–…” I catch myself, but not fast enough. I see a flicker of pain cross Tim’s sharp blue eyes, and then his expression eases a little.

“It’s okay, Mak. I’m over it.”

I know he isn’t, not really. He smells like it hurts. Like I’ve hurt him.

“I am sorry,” I click quietly, speaking Thoracian Standard. It’s like our private little language. We invented it, after all, Tim and me. “I wish I could have helped him.”

It’s Tim’s turn to look bitter, his smile not reaching his eyes. “You know you did help him, Mak. You know there was nothing either of us could do for him.”

The pizza is forgotten, then, the projector remains dormant, and we just sit there with one another. Next to one another. My lower hand in his.

Tim is asleep on my shoulder. I don’t mean to let it happen. My shoulder is kind of hard and unforgiving. He seems comfortable, though, so I don’t make any move to dislodge him. Instead I flip through the channels on the projector, setting it to transmit to my antennae directly. I’m not really watching/smelling/hearing it though. There’s too much on my mind.

Tim stood up for me. He took a stand for me, was brave for me, bought a hotel room for me. His father took me in, his mother was the only one who didn’t approve. His father made first contact with my race. His father was the one who wanted to organize a sort of unified alliance between the ‘primitive’ thoracians (my people) and the humans (Tim’s people). It didn’t… exactly work out.

It was the United Conglomerate States– what Tim tells me was formerly China and the United States of America before a war no one remembers anymore– that exploited my people, my family, and caused them to cut themselves off entirely from humanity. There’s one matriarch, one queen left in human space, and she has been captured and tamed.

And I have no idea where she is.

No one does.

“Good morning, Tim,” I click near his ear as he stirs against my side. “How are you feeling?”

He glances up at me, and smiles, but it smells like it might be forced, bitter. “Pretty good. I should’ve picked a softer surface.”

My second dermal layer blushes pointlessly. I look away. “Any time you want to switch to a human–”

“I meant on a pillow, Mak. Something on your mind?”

“Only the same thing on yours,” I say quietly, turning to look at him again as he sits up. “We’ll need to face her eventually.”

He doesn’t answer for a while, then nods grimly. “Give it another three weeks.”

It isn’t until after breakfast (waffles cooked Tim’s way, three scrambled eggs and a few strips of bacon) that we decide on where we want to go for the day. Timeron thinks that the Park would be a good place to start. As a first official ‘date’ after two years of messing around, I figure that might be nice.

Tim picks up the book the clerk gave us on the way out.

It isn’t as romantic as I thought it would be. We sit at a table made out of ancient wood, in a part of the Park that hasn’t been cared for in close to a hundred years. Since ‘caring’ often involves sickening culling of overpopulations of animals, I feel like we definitely get the better deal of anyone visiting the Park to watch wildlife.

Tim rented out a portable replicator in case we get thirsty. He also brought a pencil and several sheets of synthpaper. A whole notebook, in fact. I’m not sure where he got it. I know I’ve never seen it.

I do recognize the symbol on it, though. It’s the family flag– his family flag.

Three stripes through a circle, white, red and black bordered by blue. It’s always struck me as a bit strange for a flag– but I’m pretty used to strange now.

“I’m going to teach you how to read,” Tim says quietly. “Okay?”

I blink at him.

“You don’t seem very enthusiastic,” Timeron presses gently. “C’mon, I thought it was something you always wanted.”

“I’m sure all ants would love to fly, too, but only the queens and drones earn their wings,” I reply flatly. “A soldier is not capable of learning to read, Tim. It doesn’t matter how much I want to learn, I just can’t.”

“Mak,” my faux drone says quietly. “You are perfectly capable of learning how to read. You are brilliant. My dad always said you were truly exceptional for the species, especially for one of the warrior caste.”

I bite back a bitter reply and look away for a moment. But he’s right, too. His dad did always say that. His dad showed me nothing but kindness. Here, without the influence of any queen and without any real purpose, what better things do I have to do with my time than attempt the impossible and fake-mate with Tim?

I let something similar to a smile cross my inner lips. “Fine,” I click, with a sigh through all six spiracles. “I’ll learn to read Standard– on one condition.”

Tim raises his eyebrows. “Name it.”

“If I learn to read, let me help you with your father’s work. I’m tired of having to wait while you go out,” I state firmly. “I know I can be of some help. I have four arms and you only have two.”

“You just want to spend more time with me,” Tim posits, somewhat hypocritically. I just stare at him until it’s his turn to sigh. He shakes his head ruefully. “Deal. But we’re doing the alphabet first.”

I grin behind my mandibles. That suits me just fine.

By the end of four hours, both of us are tired of trying. The characters stand there defiantly, their curves and lines as senseless as ever. I don’t know their names still, and after four hours, though tired, Tim is not the least bit discouraged.

“It’ll be different tomorrow,” he says quietly. “I need to go to work.”

“And…?” I prompt.

“And you’re coming with me,” he says lightly. “But first, we’re getting you a labcoat.”

We leave the Park as we found it– dilapidated and run down, but filled with life.

We take a teleportation pad to a nearby supplier and pick up a white labcoat. The only thing that actually costs any credit in the UCS is room and board. Everything else can just be created through the fusion-enabled process of replication.

It’s an interesting jump from the relatively substandard method of bartering used by my people, but I’ve been here five years so obviously I’m accustomed to it. I remember when I first saw one of their broad black shapes– the shops here that seem more like factories, belching condensed water into the air. It rains all the time around them. So much so that the drainage system is particularly effective, simply pumping water back into the reactors to be separated out into hydrogen and oxygen again.

The room we enter to receive the labcoat is big, covered in black tiling, and fully automated. No clerk sits at the desk. The desk itself sits under a chute- which deposits a compact package containing the white labcoat Tim ordered for me.

“Why not teleport it in?” I wonder aloud, picking up the package. It’s something I’ve thought about since I first saw this area. “Wouldn’t it be simple? We have access– you have access– to some of the strongest and most amazing technologies there are. Why have it drop in the first place?”

“Teleportation is not something we need to do a job that gravity is better at, Mak.” Tim’s explanation makes sense, so we just leave the facility, heading to the nearest teleportation pad so we can reach Contact Tech. and Assoc.– where Tim’s father worked.

The lab is completely empty when we arrive, the lights in every force-window dark. I’ve been here before several times, but the lights have always been on and there were always many vehicles set around it as well– the Vertical Landing and Launch pad completely packed with airships of all different kinds. I’ve never been allowed to the top, where the most important research is conducted.

The laboratory, Contact Technology and Associates is immense. Twenty floors tall at least, reaching into the sky like an immense oblong pillar. Exactly like an oblong pillar, in fact.

Tim approaches the retinal scanner, scans himself in and flicks a switch on the side of the door, momentarily throwing me off. I’d only ever seen switches in the basement of his mother’s house– never in a building above the ground. I suppose I’d always assumed that was part of their function.

It opens a small panel with many different keys and a screen of  constantly shifting hues. He taps in a code, causing the terminal to shine colors that, without my eye augmentation, I would be unable to see at all. Transfixed, I barely notice the door open as he works.

The next moment, there’s a dull ‘pop’ sort of noise, and a hole appears in Tim’s labcoat– on his left arm, smoke rising from it. It’s a tiny hole, no more than a half-centimeter in diameter.

It bleeds red. It pours red. Tim shouts.

He staggers back.

A man steps out, lifting his accelerator pistol, barrel still hot, keeping it pointed at Tim. I see his finger on the trigger. If he notices me he doesn’t indicate it. I was standing to Tim’s right, out of the way. His eyes flick towards me then.

In the next moment, a long, jagged spine enters his neck at the base of his throat, punctures his trachea and drives through the nerve bundle at the column running up his back. He collapses instantaneously.

Dimly, I am aware of my chitin-covered hand, lifted and shaking, bleeding ichor sluggishly from the wound where the spine tore free, where I fired it. Aware of the hole in my mainly hollow arm where a spine is missing, where another one begins to grow. Aware of the hole in my palm where a spine tip pokes out from it, is already prepared to fire again.

Time, sound and chaos come back in a rush. I hug Tim close with my lower set of arms, keeping an upper, needle’d one trained on the open doorway, eyeing the man as he collapses, a gush of blood spilling from the awful wound my spine left in his neck.

“Tim!” I click, frantic. “Tim, are you okay?”

He smiles weakly, at the ludicrousness of the statement I’m sure, at the blood running down his arm, normally olive skin white as snow, stained dark along his arm. His eyes are unfocused, then focused again, on me.

“Sting me,” he says sharply. “Now.”

I unsheathe my sting without complaint. “Where?” I ask grimly. “Tell me where.”

“Shoulder. Above the wound,” he murmurs faintly, then his voice sharpens again, urgent. “Now, Mak!”

I bring him down to the ground, pull his upper body close to my abdomen, and jab him with the sting, in the shoulder just above the rent flesh.

I feel it sink in, feel venom instantly forced into the wound, feel muscles I hate contract and tighten. I watch Tim stiffen, tense up all over, a spasm of pain rushing through him all at once, rocking his body against me. His shoulder puffs up. Swells. All the way down his arm, it swells, swollen- but the blood flow stops almost immediately. I pull my sting back, gritting my inner teeth.

“Why did you do that?” I snarl, as soon as he seems coherent enough to listen to me. “What if there are more like him?”

“Why are you wasting time jabbering on, Mak?” he asks weakly. “Get me to the lab. There’s an antivenom in the medical cabinet and I’ve got at least twenty minutes before stage four.”

“We can just go to the hospital, right? I can work a teleportation pad,” I click out rapidly. “We don’t need to go in–”

Tim makes a noise between a chuckle and a groan. “Mak’ar, the CTA is the only facility within three light-years with any access to Thoracian anti-venom and you know that. If you had not stung me I would be dead right now.”

I lift him up. My muscles are weak from the time I’ve spent in the simulator and my body– head, thorax and abdomen– hurts. Biting my inner lip, shaking with fear and exertion, I tuck him close to my thorax, push past the gurgling man where he lies on the ground. I try not to think about what my spine did to him as I step over him and into the lab.

The door shuts behind me, sliding closed with a soft hum.

The foyer of the laboratory is small. There’s enough room for the desk, but there’s no clerk sitting at it– the whole place feels abandoned. I smell the trail of the man from outside, where he’d waited here for a long time before we’d happened along. Two hallways spread out

One hallway leads to the med-lab. The other leads to the stairs.

“Up,” Tim gasps. “We need to go up.”

“Anti-venom first,” I hiss. “I’m not going anywhere until I treat you.”

“There’s anti-venom in the top lab,” he lies. I can smell it, feel it from him when I touch him with my antennae. “C’mon.”

I hate him for making me think this way, for making me suspect him like this. I hate him for making me sting him. Panic makes my chest ache where the exo presses against my skin. Where Tim’s head rests, his eyes staring at nothing.

Clicking out a Thoracian curse, I head towards the stairs.

Ten flights up with no movement, no voices, nothing. Just the click, click, click of my clawed feet tapping the tile in a lab that should be filled with life. The stairs spiral– efficient for building, terrible for climbing, just like I remember. The door at the tenth flight is familiar. I’d reached it once, maybe twice when I’d come here last. Each time to be turned away by guards or even by Tim’s father himself. I’m too worried to be curious as I should be. Too shaken. Ten flights up and Tim is who needs to catch his breath.

I can hear his labored breathing, feel him tense against me at irregular intervals. He’s light too. Terrifyingly light, as if made of synthpaper instead of flesh, blood and bone. His arm is starting to turn purple from the lack of circulation. The gruesome tourniquet the swelling caused is a mixed blessing. If I’d been able to tie, if I were a worker then it would have been a simple matter. I could have woven a silk wrap.

My digits aren’t dextrous enough to tie anything. All I am meant for is killing.

“Ice cream,” Tim whispers, so that I barely hear it.

The panel on the door has a keypad and a terminal. The characters are completely incomprehensible. “Tim-” I click, suddenly panicked. “Tim, I can’t read these-”

“Ice cream, Mak’ar. Remember? I taught you how to s-spell it. It’s an old favorite. How do you spell it, Mak?”

His voice is tight with pain.

“I– I don’t know,” I whimper. “I don’t know, Tim-”

“You remember how to write them though, don’t you? It was muscle movement. Your body- should-…” he trails off, takes a deep, shuddering breath, convulsing once in my grip. “Your body should remember.”

He’d made me write the alphabet, those symbols, countless times. Ice cream. Over and over. It almost makes sense now.

I trace the shapes out in my mind, trace them out in the air above the terminal with one claw, inner teeth digging into my lip, mandibles clacking together nervously. What had I written?

Shouting echoes up the stairwell. Voices I can’t make out. Perhaps they’ve found the body now. Perhaps they’re on their way up.

I… C… E…

“Between words there’s a-always a space. It’s the only blank key, Mak.”

C….R….E….A…M.

The door slides open, I slip through it with Timeron in my arms, and the door slides shut behind us noiselessly.

A shout, to my right, a cry of alarm. A man stands there, fist around a Smith/Tec brand Linear Accelerator Pistol. The sleek design and the coils around the barrel mark it as a very nice one. The man raises it, his short blonde hair waving as he rises fully, as he lifts the barrel towards me as if to reach out and smite me. His mouth opens to say something, his warm brown eyes speaking volumes.

I see a split second’s hesitation in them, and it’s all I need. A thousand muscles extend and contract, launching a subdermal spine. It’s a large, dull one from my right hand, too, meant for cracking armor more than piercing people.

It strikes a little off target, smashing into the barrel of the gun rather than the man’s hand, wrenching it from his grip and sending it spinning across the floor. He shouts again, raises his hands in the air, eyes fixed on my hand– on me, from head to toe. I grin, baring teeth, mandibles open.

“Is there a teleportation pad to the top floor?” I click, before remembering no one speaks Thoracian Standard except me and Tim. I switch to English.

“Teleportation pad?” I ask. “Top floor!”

He gibbers something completely useless. I hear the voices, can hear the footsteps behind the door I’ve just left. This room is filled with lab equipment, now that I look around. Burners and test tubes, a miniature collider- anything one might think stereotypical of lab equipment. Tim often said nothing much has changed over the past hundred years. This must be the chemistry lab then.

There is a pad, but the arrow above it points down. I can only assume that means it only goes down. The shellshocked man just keeps his hands up in the air, over his head. He makes no move to pick up his fallen gun.

“Mak,” Tim grits out. “Get moving, dammit! The only way up is stairs!”

His voice spurs me to action. The weight of him in my arms is barely noticeable. I stride to the far door– click, click, click– and wrench it open with a fumbling spine’d set of digits.

It closes behind me as I race down the hall beyond to the stairway. Click, click, click. It’s only when I start up this next staircase that I realize I should have locked it.

The noise of my passage, the lack of scent on the way up (except for my own scent, the scent of human blood and the acid of my venom in Tim’s shoulder) is eerily isolating, echoing in my mind. One landing. Another. Another. My only true burden is time.

It weighs too heavily. I could already be too late. How much time has passed?

“Tim? Stay with me, please.” What was it they always said on the projector? “I don’t know what I’d do without you- stay with me, come on.”

He doesn’t answer, and I can’t look to make sure he’s still conscious, can’t force myself to look down at the crumpled form of him in my arms, his legs slung over my right lower arm, his back against my left as I cradle him close, taking the stairs as quickly- and safely as I can. My claws dig into the tile for unfound purchase, scrabbling sometimes, slipping, but always catching myself before I fall, on the rail along the stairs.

My armor’d exo scrapes against the wall as I stumble onto the nineteenth landing. A set of extravagant main steps leads up to the top lab. I can see the portal, the arch at the top and the scanner to its left. I can hear voices and the crash of a door ten landings down.

My spiracles flare as I draw in another breath, and I’m grateful for the support to my lungs. I start up the last set of stairs.

I reach the top step– by this time Tim’s arm has turned black, swollen to the point of nearly bursting, pus and blood both caked on it, dried on it.

There though, on the platform before the portal to the main lab, I come face to face with a queen. With the queen. It stuns me, but only for a moment before instinct kicks in. I have no time to be stunned.

She’s chained there, at the end of the room, immense abdomen wired to a hundred different blinking machines. As I reach the top step, however, she lurches over to the portal itself, extending herself to stand right in front of me.

One of her immense antennae reaches out and touches my forehead before I can react.

WHY ARE YOU HERE?

I recoil from it, nearly fall backwards, drive a clawed foot through the tile to dig in and keep my balance, leaning forward again. I press against something invisible though, something between me and the queen. Her mandibles are surprisingly small, only as big as mine, but her antennae are each as long as one of my upper arms, and I’m almost a head taller than Tim when standing up straight.

Despite the force-barrier, she can go through it- it must be keyed to her somehow.

I respond after a moment, reaching up and touching her antennae again, gathering myself.

I seek treatment for this human. I stung him and he needs an immediate anti-venom.

She regards me for a few moments, a few precious moments. The voices from below approach.

The queen answers. Her voice in my mind is a roar that overwhelms, that makes my armored legs quake.

PAY ME FIRST.

What do you need? I ask, trying to keep my fear from my mind.

Mandibles spread apart, baring razor teeth. A queen requires immense amounts of protein. FREEDOM! 

Tim is limp in my arms now. I can’t tell if he’s breathing. Deal! I snap back. Taking a gamble, I push my precious fake-mate through the invisible field. He passes through without resistance. Heal him while I figure out how to free you. Please!

The queen regards me, but I’m a soldier, so I must do as I’m told. She has no reason not to trust me. A shout from below, from the landing below me.

“There it is! Get it!”

I fire off a spine to the scanner on the left of the force field, jamming the lever in what I hope is the on position. I turn to face the noise, turn to face two armed men, brown and black hair, tall and strong, carrying batons. They have small badges on their shoulders, are dressed entirely in the red of security. On the chests I see the mark of Tim’s family flag. Ichor dripping from my palms onto the floor, I stare at the guards, and don’t move from my position at the top of the stairs.

One of them speaks quickly– probably for the record of the vid-feed augment most of them are fitted with. No doubt his entire headquarters is watching this. “This is alpha two, we’ve found the wild thoracian and request immediate back-up. Looks like its a soldier.”

On impulse, I pull out the package for the labcoat out of a slip-pocket patch in the right thigh of my exo.

As they stare at me, I say as calmly as I can manage:

“I work here. I am not wild, but the current CEO of this corporation is behind me with a wild queen of my species. If you want to see him alive again, you will listen to me.”

I speak slowly and carefully, making sure to click as little as possible. Very gently, I put down the lab coat. “I’m going to shut down the field now.”

The man with short black hair nods slowly, never taking his eyes off of me, his mouth slightly agape and his baton held loose. The other doesn’t even breathe, just standing there. Finally he says, so quietly I can barely hear him, “Yes.”

I take a deep breath, raising a hand, turning, aiming past the force wall into the room, where the main tether ties the queen. As expected, it’s powered by a socket– a fusion generator next to it. Also as expected, the queen did not know how to deactivate it.

I’m practically an expert.

I aim at the generator, and fire off my last spine.

The security force hands me over to the city watch. The city watch takes me away from the CTA building in a bright blue airship. I don’t know what is happening to Tim.

I don’t know if he is alive or dead or whether the queen administered her pheromone as anti-venom. Whether her pheromones would even work or not. They work for soldiers. Tim is not a soldier.

I am a soldier, as the city watch have said many times. Killing is just what I do. I’m good for nothing else. They hadn’t been surprised to learn that I’d killed someone, that the man had been after Tim and had failed, that instead of searching for people inside of the lab or trying to find help at a hospital, I had just acted.

To them, my actions vindicate everything they find wrong with my species, the violence and barbarism and the terrifying capability of us as threats, even without particle weapons and linear accelerator pistols. Without spines, though, they’d laughed, like it was some kind of amazing joke. Who would be afraid of me? Sure I could tear their arms off or rip out their throats with these claws of mine, but the true thing that terrifies a human is not the prowess of a creature in close combat, no, but the deadliness of their projectiles, the strong point of any of these chitin-less creatures is their technology. A match in biology is what frightens them. A thoracian soldier is capable of firing spines that puncture any known human alloy. From their armsam capable of that. That is what terrifies them. What they need their tools to do, I do by instinct.

It terrifies me, too, and that’s the truth of it.

I sit in silence. I’m paralyzed from head to toe by a collar they’d installed- reinstalled– around my neck. I’d had one before, for a day. I remember it still, when Tim’s mother clicked it into place around my neck and smiled that terrible smile of hers.

I listen, because that’s all I can do, to the humans chattering away up front.

“Why do we have to deal with these things, anyway, captain?” a voice asks in a drawl.

“Watch your language, son. I have a tame one at home who does the housework. Soft spoken, good at replicating tea, even sews stuff for us. It’s only the soldiers that are really any trouble. Ants are just like any other domestic animal; they’ll go feral if you give ’em the chance. Soldiers just never get tamed,” The reply is sharp and matter-of-fact. “You can’t judge a whole species by the actions of a one.”

“Yeah, but this ‘one’ just killed a guy in cold blood and kidnapped the CEO of CTA,” the drawling voice points out slowly. “If the soldiers go like that, why don’t we just exterminate the lot? Aren’t they just like ants? I thought they couldn’t think without a hive, or a colony or whatever.”

“Word is this one speaks English,” the captain says quietly. “I think it’s acting a bit too smart to be just a puppet for some queen.”

There’s the noise of someone shifting around in their seat, easily audible over the dull hum of the electric engine. “They can’t speak English, cap. I’ve never heard of a thoracian ant soldier speakin’ English. Or learnin’ to read, neither.”

I wonder about that to myself, with nothing better to do. Wonder, and worry about Tim. Eventually the watchmen’s conversation turns less engaging, towards lunch and their respective families, and I ignore them. I can’t even close my eyes, so I just wait.

Eventually they need me to walk, so they relinquish some of the paralysis. Down the hall of the city station, towards a small chamber with chains and thick steel walls. The push me in, but don’t manacle me,– and why should they, when they have a collar around my neck?–instead choosing to leave me there in my half paralyzed state.

I sit down in the corner and wait to die.

At the end of the first day, a skinny blonde-haired human with a watch officer’s uniform walks up to my cell (which is transparent) and attempts to communicate through a broken version of pure Thoracian, gesturing with just two hands instead of all four. It’s hard to make sense of, and, paralyzed as I am, I can’t reply back. He repeats the message five times. Then he leaves.

At the end of the second day, I am given one bloody lump of meat. I chew on it a little bit, but after delights like Tim’s pizza or waffles, it really isn’t all that appealing. I eat it anyway. I want to live long enough to hear about Tim.

By the end of the third day, my spines have regrown and my arms are paralyzed all the time. They believe that my lower arms have spines too and are mistaken. Anyone who knew even the slightest thing of Thoracian biology would know that much.

On the fourth day I smell the captain’s scent through the crack under the metal door. As he walks by, I lift myself from my usual corner, move to it and tap the force-glass next to it with my antennae to get his attention. He turns and looks at me, and I take a chance.

“Do you know of Tim?” I ask.

For a moment he just stares, then he stands up straight and nods once. “Yes.”

“Where is he?” I press. “Is he well?”

“Timeron, the CEO of CTA is in critical condition in a nearby hospital. There’s talk of putting him into stasis until a proper anti-venom can be drawn,” the captain says quietly. “Do you understand that?”

I look away. For a moment, I can’t bare to look at him. He is giving me a strange look when I finally force myself to turn back. His eyes are hooded, like the clerk from the hotel, and the smile on his face is as bitter as anything Tim has ever had. “I found out two days ago that he’s my nephew. For the longest time I didn’t know what my brother had gotten up to. Turns out he went and had a kid and never told anyone. Before you ask, I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Maybe because tomorrow it won’t matter.”

I stare at him blankly. I don’t ask, because I know. Instead, I nod.

“I only have one question for you, ant,” he murmurs quietly, fiercely. “Why did you sting him in the shoulder? You could have stung him anywhere else. You could have killed him faster. Did you just want to see him suffer?”

I say nothing, because there is nothing I can say. I simply stare.

Tim is going to die. The queen didn’t administer an anti-venom because the deal wasn’t completed. I will be put down tomorrow.

The fate of all rogue soldiers.

Tomorrow can’t come fast enough. I have nothing left to hope for.

No one will believe me, talking or not.

On the fifth morning, there are voices outside of my cell.

“A… Mrs. Trifecto is here to see a prisoner, sir,” one says quietly.

“It can wait until after we put down the ant, can’t it?” the captain’s voice asks, yawning mid-sentence.

“I’ll go ask.”

“Bring the ant out first, will you? I can’t imagine it’s so important that we can’t put it down first.”

I curl up further in my corner at that. No doubt Tim’s mother is here to see justice done. If she stopped any scheduled slaughter then it would only be so she could get a good seat to watch.

A guard walks in and reaches down. His hand is gentle as it grips my upper arm, and I see and smell the guard from the airship.

“Let’s go, big guy,” he says carefully. “No funny business, now.”

“I can understand you perfectly,” I reply in English. “I am not an idiot, and I am not male.” My mandibles click on the last word, but I feel the fire draining away as he leads me out. He’s visibly shaken, and for what? I don’t feel any better for it. Tim is going to die, I am going to die, and there is nothing I can do about it.

I can’t even bring up the urge to break free, even if that were a possibility, even if I had the chance to run I can’t imagine a situation where it would make things better-

-Tim’s mother is waiting by the door to the lobby. In order to make it to the complex across the way, we’d need to go by her- and from the way she steps in front of the guard, her eyes locked on me, from the way she draws a pistol from her pocket and levels it at the guard leading me, from the grim smile on her lips, I know something is desperately, horribly wrong.

Who is this woman?

“I said I wanted to speak to this prisoner, didn’t I?” she asks, as if compelled to explain the matter of the pistol in her grip.

It’s an accelerator class of an especially low caliber- and an especially high velocity. I recognize the make– from what Tim read to me, it would be capable of squeezing off a round moving at thirty thousand meters a second with almost no recoil.

As to where Mrs. Sarah Trifecto got such a powerful hand-held linear accelerator, I can only wonder. “I lied. I’m here to take it- her- to my son.”

“You’re crazy,” the guard says flatly. “What are you going to do with a pea-shooter like that?”

“Young man, one round from this device is capable of reaching speeds of over thirty three thousand meters a second. I could fire through this entire facility if I wanted to,” Mrs. Trifecto says. “Can you move faster than I can pull the trigger? Trust me dearie, if you even flinch the wrong way then where this bullet ends up won’t be a problem. Where your organs go? That will be up for debate. From what I understand, this weapon is an excellent opening argument.”

The guard hesitates. I can feel him tense up, feel him breathe out. He shrugs and sighs. “Fine, miss. If you want your vengeance that badly, have it. Legally the ant is your property anyway.”

Sarah takes my hand and pulls me out of the room, out the metal door to the lobby, past the frantic officer– whose weapon lies on the tiled floor– and out the front door. Before we leave I note the molten hole above the desk– clean through a picture of the captain.

I see many, many watch officers racing out of various buildings towards us, the captain at their head, waving his baton futilely, but Mrs. Trifecto grabs me around my wasp-like hip segment (between abdomen and thorax, where my legs start) and says, loudly, “Computer- Command line: Recall.”

In a blink, we’re gone.

Travel by teleportation is taxing. I nearly fall over. Mrs. Trifecto, however, pulls me along with her, ducks us both close against a wall of the building I recognize as the hospital, and glares at me directly.

“Inside of this building is my son. I don’t know what happened out there and I don’t know how smart you really are and I don’t care. You saved my son’s life. I looked at his wound. I know he was shot before he was stung and I know that your sting is the only thing that kept him alive. It canceled out a very particular base in the projectile from the accelerator pistol shot– there were trace amounts of it on his labcoat. All I ask of you is that you tell me truthfully: Is there an antidote for that venom?”

“Yes,” I respond immediately, first in Thoracian Standard, then in English. “Yes.”

“Where is it?” she asks sharply. “I can teleport us anywhere we need to go, thanks mostly to my late husband’s work. Where do we need to go?”

“We need to find the thoracian queen,” I click softly.

“Where would she be? Hurry.”

I think on it, think back. If I were the queen and I were loose to do as I wished, I would first go someplace where my underlings had been. I am one of the very few thoracians in this city…. she would head towards the largest concentration of my pheromones….

“Take us to the run down section of the Park,” I say suddenly. “That is where she is.”

She nods. “Computer- Command line: Teleport to the city Park.”

Sarah Trifecto hugs me close again, tight, as though clinging to a lifeline.

We vanish once more.

The Park is closed. A huge gate bars our path, made of old steel and shut tight with an oversized padlock. It’s the most primitive security I’ve seen since the guard caste back home, whose oversized heads would often be used to block holes.

Sarah Trifecto calmly loads a small pellet into the back of her decidedly single-shot accelerator pistol, lifting it up, taking careful aim, and firing in one smooth motion. The padlock explodes into a hundred shards, the bar behind it is cut in half, and the gate shudders as the shockwave bends the bars out from the point of impact.

She opens it, then, and we enter the Park. I have the scent of the queen. I can pick up her pheromone trail.

It leads and ends right at the table I sat with Tim at, four days ago.

It seems so much longer than that, though. As uneventful as my time in the holding cell had been, it had still felt like so long. An eternity, at least.

The queen lies on that table- or the remains of it. She is quite busy laying her eggs, and she turns a hungry eye on Sarah as we step into view, clacks those mandibles together. I step in front of her, then step towards the thoracian noble, upper and lower arms folded, emboldened by the queen’s bloated body and her lazy demeanor.

Her antennae draw close, and she clicks at me in warning. No closer.

I beckon, click back. Talk to me.

What do you want? the queen hisses, tapping me with her antennae.

You owe me a cure, I reply fiercely. Timeron has done so much for us. You owe him this too.

The queen clicks, then snaps her mandibles shut inches from mine. The force of her mind threatens to stagger me. I OWE HIM NOTHING. He caged me. This is what he deserves.

Then pay ME, I snap back. Pay your debt to me, if not to Timeron and his line. I demanded this in return for freeing you. I have freed you.

Her spiracles vent a rush of powerful pheromones in a roar. The scent of them is every bit as overpowering as her presence, as her mental prowess. I dig my claws in to keep my balance as she roars her reply, both physically and mentally.

I WILL DO NO SUCH THING. IF YOUR GOAL IS TO HELP, SOLDIER, YOU WILL AID ME IN REFORMING A COLONY HERE. YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR PEOPLE BY SIDING WITH THIS CREATURE.

My mind fogs over, then. I fight back instinct, to obey, to cower and beg forgiveness, to give in and obey this queen, my queen. I struggle against something like an invisible wall in my head. It aches terribly, pain throbbing in my head as piercing as ever. The force of her, the weight of her thoughts push me down to my chitin-covered knees.

Finally I shout back, with a click-clack of my mandibles. Tim is lying in his hospital bed, unconscious and dying, and it’s my fault.

Give me the antidote to my venom, or I will kill you, my queen, I say. My mind-voice feels weak even to me. Weak, but I say it. Weak, but I think it with all my strength.

An empty threat.

I raise one of my hands and direct the spine in its center towards her head.

“Try me,” I click in Thoracian Standard, batting her antennae aside with my own. “I dare you. I will take that antidote from your corpse if I must, you heartless thing.” Even though she can’t really understand it, I know she gets the gist of it.

For a long moment, the queen stays very still. She has no foothold in this area, no colony to back her up. I am a lone soldier, and she is in her fertile position, basically immobile until tended to by a drone or a worker. Still, with her bulk, uprooting herself and tearing me in half would not be impossible. In a fight she holds every advantage there is but one.

Finally, after what seems like an aching eternity, she weaves a net with two of her hind legs and passes it up to her massive front. She secretes something thick, sticky and golden from her mouth and lets it drop into the net before she closes it over the substance and rolls it towards me with her head. She speaks not another mental word, turning from me altogether. Her wings flutter in something like dismissal, and, shaking inside and out, I pick up the package and grab Sarah’s own quaking hand.

“Teleport us to your son,” I say softly. “Now.”

“You are the bravest woman I have ever met, Mak’ar,” Sarah Trifecto says, matter-of-fact, her voice shaking the most I’ve ever heard it. “No exceptions. Computer- Command line: Recall.”

We’re gone.

The sight of Mrs. Trifecto’s inordinately powerful linear particle accelerator is enough to make the hospital staff fall all over themselves to bring us to Tim’s room.

I open the door, rush over to him. He is still. His breathing is labored and so weak as to be unnoticeable, his eyes are closed, his whole body is covered in sweat. His arm looks terrible, but I’m glad I got here before they decided to amputate.

My heart thumps, my legs shake with the effort of remaining upright. Three teleportations– with unsanctioned technology– leave me queasy. Four is about my limit. I slice the package of silk open, though, and wrap the whole thing around his arm.

Then I wait.

Sarah looks like she wants to say something, but she doesn’t. She remains in the hall, keeping an eye left and right to make sure no one else comes in, that stupidly powerful pistol still casually gripped in one hand.

I wait, sitting on the edge of his white bed, staring at him, leaned in close. If I could cry, then I would be crying. If I were like a human girl, if I were any species other than what I am, if I were anything other than a soldier, I would be crying for him right now.

Instead, I just wait.

When his eyes flutter open they’re unfocused for a bare, heart-wrenching second, and then they’re looking directly into mine.

“You’re amazing,” Tim says softly, his voice cracked and hoarse. “Just amazing.”

“I love you,” I reply, weakly. “I’m sorry.”

“I love you too,” he murmurs. “Don’t be.”

And that’s the end of it.

Time goes by as time is wont to do. All charges are dropped with newfound evidence– were there any charges at all?– I am commemorated by the corporation for single-handedly saving their CEO, and I work with Tim- both towards equal rights for the few thoracians still living on Earth, and the development of an easy method of allowing thoracians to reproduce without need of a queen.

The simulator is not something I even visit anymore. I think, honestly, I’ve had enough of the hive to last me the rest of my life. Now I spend my time learning to read with Timeron and pass nights nestled up close to him. Every moment I’m awake is one I can find meaning in– the protection I owe Tim, the discovery of new things, the knowledge that I can learn to read. It all moves so fast.

Life isn’t perfect yet- Sarah and I still don’t quite see eye to eye, Tim is still recovering from his arm injury, and I’m still not technically a citizen of the United Conglomerate States– but it’s getting closer to it every day.

————

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

———–

Hey! So I finally got this story done. It took literally all day. It was going so slow the other way I tried it– anyone who subscribed may have gotten a FAKE post where I accidentally totally clicked the publish button before it was ready. I instantly deleted it. Well, I just decided to write this whole darn thing.

So this is a monstrosity. If you got down this far, congratulations! That was like forty two pages or something! Thank you also for reading it. It’ll be up in the short story section immediately.

Many many <3s to all my readers!

-Eris

Short Story: And So Space Burns

And So Space Burns

A short sci-fi story by Sam Oliver [Eris]

 

 

 

The red star is immense, filling the space surrounding it with ruddy red light and illuminating a dark metal monstrosity in orbit around it.

Slide in from the emptiness of that space, closer and closer, and you might make out Sirius Station, so filled with memory and regret, ancient and spinning forever through the vastness of space. Watch it turning slowly, and see the lights on the station, beacons to draw in the lost or desperate.

Or, in the case of one man currently slumped against a bulkhead, the vengeful and the grieving.

 

 

Adial Shard takes a long, deep breath, hands squeezed shut tight into fists, eyes closed, heart pounding in his breast. His heavy head aches with every step, every jarring movement he makes. His eyes are open, but they can’t see. Slowly, working from his name up, he tries to make sense of what has happened.

Pain fades from his eyes and his head, but slowly. With its departure, thought rolls in.

It’s too blurry to be coherent.

Am I alive? My body aches. I can’t think right. I’m bleeding!

The messages from his own body all scream at him at once.

“You’ll never get him back, Addy,” A taunting feminine voice jeers. The noise scrapes across his consciousness. That’s right.

Her.

She’d killed his partner. And he’d come back. Why had he come back? He could have just left this section of the station alone He hadn’t had any reason to come back.

He grinds his hands against the deck and then forces himself upright. A horrible stink, of burnt flesh and ozone, reaches his nose. He can’t tell if it’s his or not.

Shard grits his teeth, breath hissing between them as he staggers up.

His eyes are just opening when she strikes him. The blow cracks his ribs, knocking him backward, slamming him against the bulkhead, and dropping him to his knees, agony flaring up along splintered bone and jerking him wide awake. His eyes snap open fully, and catch a glimpse of her, sliding back into the shadows of one of Sirius Station’s many corridors. Her long, bony tail flicks out of the darkness and raps on the metal of the bulkhead near his face.

She isn’t growling or hissing, as he’d been told ferals would do. She isn’t in a horrible wild rage. She’s being cold, calculating…. cruel. A one hundred eighty degree reversal from her usual sunny self– but really he had expected nothing less.

If she’s smart, however… suddenly Adial feels too small, too alone, and too tired.

The licks of fire caress his ribs again as he pushes away from the damn bulkhead, staggering off, away from her, uselessly, helplessly.

His chest is burning, every step sends spikes of pain shuddering across his midriff.

“No,” He whispers, stumbling towards the airlock. He slams one hand into the scanner at its center, and then collapses against the door as the computer processes his request, blaring a warning as his blood is smeared against the metal.

Vital signs at 30% optimal level.  the glowing yellow text flashes in his visor. Suggested course of action: Seek medical attention.

No shit, Shard thinks. Next it’ll tell me we’re in space.

Blood from his hand. Blood from his chest. He’s dripping it. He can taste it.

“Just open the damn door,” Shard hisses. “Before she gets bored.”

Access granted.

The airlock door unlocks and opens forth. Air sucks at him, pushing him forward into the chamber.

“Close it.”

He half-turns, staring back out the door at her yellow eyes.  They grow wide as the door slams shut but even as she pads out it’s too late, and just as the interlocking metal closes, he hears a hiss and the screech of her bony claws dragging down the shiny surface of the airlock’s exterior.

She hadn’t thought he had the heart to do it. Now she knows better.

Shard slumps against the side of the airlock. From here, will the computer even be able to understand him? His hands are shaking.

His whole body is shaking.

Shock. Or poison from her claws. Is that why his ribs feel as though they’ve been filled with molten lead? Is that the source of the burning in his blood? He doesn’t know. It could be either. It could be neither. Perhaps it’s both. It doesn’t matter. Shit.

“Computer, cold trace her for me, will you?”

Insufficient data. No scan has been run on her, Captain Shard.

“Huh. Could’ve sworn I ordered one when she first came aboard.”

Scanners were offline at the time. Your orders were to make sure that scans were done after they were repaired, but I still needed your authorization, and you never answered when I asked.

“When were they repaired?” Shard asks, a sinking feeling added to the burning of his nerves.

According to my memory banks, they were finished being repaired at exactly twenty cycles after her arrival.

“Exactly?”

Yes, Captain. Captain Shard, your injuries are likely to be life-threatening if they remain untreated. You should seek medical assistance immediately.

Adial Shard decides to ignore that. With blood running down the inside of his suit and dripping warmly down the side of a gash in the mesh on his leg, he knows full well just how badly injured he is. Without access to one of Sirius Station’s many medical bays– being in an airlock– his options are limited.

So. This is it, then. Better to die here than to be brought before the Archon, like Tymmet and Fade. Better to suffer the injustice of bleeding to death from an alien slash wound than face Sirius like he was.

Pounding against the door. She must be eager to get at him. Desperate even. If she suspected that he was about to die, she would be even more so, no doubt.

Blood trickles down his thigh. He watches the red mix with the white dimly. Reddish, really, more like purple. Oxygen deprived. When had he last taken a breath?

Shard draws in air, and it tastes stale.

Already?

Captain Shard, the oxygen supply in the airlock is insufficient to support an organism of your size.

“No shit,” he whispers, barely daring to breathe. Which would be worse? Suffocation or laceration?

A howling, screeching cry sounds from the area behind him. He takes what might be his final breath, and just as he does, a warning displays in his visor. He stares at the words for a second without comprehending before they finally burn in his mind.

Brace for boarding procedure, Captain Shard.

Boarding procedure….

….boarding procedure?!

There’s a dull thump and then Shard is thrown onto his cracked ribs, pitched forward as the whole lock rolls. Agony spikes through his nerves, and he writhes, kicking out and smacking his forehead against the metal frame of the floor.

Someone on the outside- the far side!- of the airlock is cycling the door. Shard can make them out as only a shadow as the door slides away and a single boot steps into the lock.

There’s a rush of fresh air blowing over his face and streaming over his cracked and burned arm. Dream-like, Shard pushes himself up onto his knees, and then stands, straightening slowly, staring at the shadow eclipsed by shining, blinding light.

The silhouette resolves itself into a blurry face. An androgynous face Captain Shard knows a little too well.

“Shard,” S/he says, folding he/r arms. “It’s been a while.”

“Mack?” Adial Shard whispers, swaying on his feet. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“You’re injured,” S/he says quietly, moving to stand next to him and taking his arm, inspecting it critically with a calm, matter-of-fact gaze before turning to his damaged ribs and his torn chest. S/he puts he/r hand on Shard’s cheek. Shard opens his mouth again.

“Shut up,” Mack says sharply, before he can even speak. “There’s no time for talk. What I’m going to do is gonna hurt, but you’ll feel better afterwards, so it’s best if you just sit back and try to relax. Just log away all your stupid questions for now.”

Shard closes his mouth again and sits there, staring at his old friend in a total stupor. Mack leans forward, and gods damn it, it all comes back to him. he/r swaying, curved hips, he/r freckled, pale skin. he/r completely bald, genetically altered body- round grey eyes as hard as marble. Mack is all about presentation, and s/he does it quite well. The only glaring flaw, in Shard’s opinion, is the embedded chip- right where he/r navel should be. A chip marking Mack as both a psionic and a Fluid.

S/he’d left without a word, years and years ago. Without a goodbye or a warning of any kind.

Shard reaches out and brushes his fingertips against Mack’s forehead. “Mack-”

“Shush.” S/he sets he/r hand on Shard’s arm, but doesn’t pull away from his touch.

“I’m not hurt there,” Shard protests weakly. “I-”

“Shard, you’ve been injured all over. I can feel your cuts, I can feel your pain, and frankly, I’m amazed you’re even conscious right now. Shut up, lie back, and hold still.”

Mack goes to work. Shard lies back, taking in a deep breath.

Fresh, freezing air enters his lungs. His cracked ribs ache, and when Mack’s hand touches his chest he feels he might just pass right out. Then, when s/he begins to knit his bones back together with he/r psionic power and all of Shard’s nerves scream at once, he does.

 

 

His eyes open again. It’s only been moments, of that he’s absolutely certain, but his chest and his ribs both feel as though they’ve been healing for months. They also feel compressed. He stares at Mack, who lies flat against his chest. S/he probably hadn’t been sleeping very well lately; by the look of it s/he hadn’t since the last time they saw one another, a year or so prior.

Gingerly, Shard moves under his friend, slowly shifting he/r off of himself and taking a deep breath. Sound asleep. How could he fall sound asleep so quickly?

Shard looks down and, in a moment of shock, realizes that Mack’s fingers are red with blood where s/he dug he/r nails into he/rself. S/he’d left stinging tracks all down his chest, too. He can feel the blood welling up under the ragged skin. Adial takes in another shuddering breath, pushing himself up to his feet. He sees Mack stir, but ignores he/r for now, staggering away to the side of the airlock.

“Computer?”

Captain Shard. Are you well?

“Forget about me. Do a scan on Mack for me, will you?”

Certainly. One moment please.

Shard sways a little, curling his fingers against the wall. He feels dizzy. His whole world is spinning. But only a few things are on his mind.

The constant pounding on the airlock door had stopped, which likely meant Morfea had given up for the time being. His body isn’t aching anymore either- though his chest burns where Mack’s nails had touched him. What happened?

The computer gives him an answer after what feels like an eternity.

Lifeform ‘Mack’ recognized as Genetically Altered Fluid. Powerful psionic matrix detected in brain pattern. Type IV. Considered threat to ship: Minimal. Mack harbors romantic feelings for lifeform Adial Shard–

“That’s enough, thank you,” Shard snaps. “What’s her… his… uh… What’re Mack’s vitals like?”

Scan indicates the lifeform ‘Mack’ is functioning at 90% optimal. Scan indicates that Mack is currently conscious, but he/r psionic presence is at present hovering outside of the airlock door. Moderately damaging abrasions have been detected on Mack’s hands.

Source suggests that these abrasions are due to the subject’s nails digging deeply into he/r palms.

Mack has sustained extreme mental stress. It is likely s/he is simply busy attempting to heal he/r mind.

“Very thorough, computer. Thank you. Keep a cold trace on Mack for me, will you?”

As you wish, Captain. Are you planning to go somewhere?

Yeah, Shard thinks to himself. He doesn’t answer out loud. Instead, he walks to the other side of the airlock. “Computer, send a bot to come collect Mack. I’m… going to provide a diversion.”

Captain, that is highly inadvisable. The lifeform Morfea is–

“Yeah, I know,” Shard mutters, slapping a hand against the lock door. “I’ll take care of her. You get Mack somewhere safe. I’m not about to let a debt go unpaid. Hook he/r up to the psyche lab. I’ll deal with he/r when I get there. I’ll be fine.”

Just fine, Shard thinks to himself. It’s not like I’ll be using tranq rounds this time.

Morfea, beyond the lock door as it opens, trills, a low, vibrating sound that rises in pitch into a howl the moment he steps from the lock. Shard stands between the feral creature and Mack, and he’s keenly aware of the situation he’s in. The hairs on his arms rise as the noise turns into something more primal, something darker, edgier.

The flickering lights shining down from the overgrown ceiling overstimulate his eyes. The airlock had been dim, and the sudden transition nearly staggers him. A sickly sweet smell reaches his nostrils– he can feel his heart beating, and it makes him tremble. It’s just as bad as it had been when he first faced her. This time, though, he has a purpose other than simple survival.

“He’s gone, Addy,” That soft, mercurial voice hisses from the shadows. “I’ve gnawed on his bones. I’ve tasted his sweet flesh and made his essence my own.”

Her voice is sending chills down his spine. Adial Shard steps away from the lock door. A sense of powerless terror takes root in the pit of his stomach.

Shard unholsters his pistol. He’d put phosphorescent rounds in it earlier. The clip had been exceedingly expensive. Three whole chips’ worth.

Shard’s finger touches the firing stud as he draws away from the wall. A classic chamber-fired vacuum-capable pistol. The thing uses the first dimensional principle to store twice as much energy as a conventional railer might. Firing it once would begin the storing process, and if allowed to hit the maximum capacitor limit, the weapon could punch a hole three inches deep in solid hullmetal.

They had been banned in the old cycles because of accidental discharges– which, due to the sheer penetration power of the rounds, could in turn lead to the explosive decompression of whole sections of the station.

Shard thumbs the firing stud, checking quickly to make sure the round is in, and feels the gun vibrate in his hand, a slow, steady thrum.

Adial Shard takes one step forward and certain as starlight, Morfea the Feral pads out in front of him and fixes those enormous steel grey eyes on him. Her bony tail slams into the floor on either side of her, denting the metal as it flicks back and forth catlike. She stretches lazily, never taking her eyes off him.  Sharp claws drag screeching trails across the floor, digging in and scraping long tracks, kicking up green and white sparks.

Suddenly, Shard feels like his gun isn’t going to make any difference at all. He fingers the firing stud, gun still pointed straight down. Behind him, the scratched, ancient airlock closes with a screech.

Captain Shard, the scan has been completed. A cold trace is now attached to Morfea. Uploading to Heads Up Display.

Morfea glows in Shard’s vision, outlined in hot white. She opens her first jaw and two of her four eyes glare right at him. Teeth bared, she snarls. “Your stupid little computer won’t help you, and I’m not afraid of some little gun, human.”

How to get her away from here?

Shard’s legs are shaking under him, but his eyes flick to the west corridor, and the welcoming darkness beyond it. It’s a path he knows well. And, he reflects, as Morfea bounds to block it, following his gaze, exactly why he sure as fuck won’t be taking it.

The deck heaves beneath him for a second as the computer throws the station’s spin out of phase. Whether it was for his benefit or not doesn’t matter. He doesn’t really care. He sprints for the east corridor instead, hopping over a sprawling snake briar, wincing as the fangs snap shut next to his toes.

He strides four paces further, whirls and depresses the firing stud with barely a second to aim. The slug hisses through the air and slams Morfea in the shoulder, spinning her around and spattering purple blood across the bulkhead. She barely even slows, leaping, claws raking metal, pushing away and bounding from the wall towards him. Shard thumbs the trigger again, too terrified to swear, turning again, running as the pistol vibrates in his fingers, charging in preparation for a second round. It automatically ejects steam from small slits along its grip as a cooling agent is applied to the dimensional rails. He doesn’t have time to load another slug.

A side passage yawns at him from the right as his feet slap the metal deck. He can practically feel Morfea breathing, bearing down on him, and, desperate, he ducks into it, gasping for breath and swallowing pure terror.

Morfea is too large to follow him, but she doesn’t do anything so dramatic as slap at the hullmetal. Instead, she sits down to wait outside of the slim passage, steel orbs fixed on his retreating back. Shard can feel her there.

Captain Shard, you are bleeding.

Pain doesn’t hit until he has a moment, the passage widening slightly, coming to a small alcove in the station, overgrown with harmless– though ominous– Gameric’s Creeper. Its skull-patterned leaves seem to shift as he walks by.

He blinks at the text for a moment, not registering it, before he leans against the wall and is calm enough to feel the stinging, burning pain all along his right calve. Three long, barbed spines leave wounds as he tugs them out. They aren’t particularly big ones, but they are easily large enough to worry him. The blood-loss could have unpleasant side-effects.

He rolls his thumb against the firing stud absently as he thinks, and the motion triggers its release, causing the gun’s silvered frame to quiver in his grip a moment, almost a mechanical purr.

A dull beep sounds from the hazard symbol at the bottom of his Heads Up Display, the corner of his visor flashing a bright orange and red.

He’d removed the spines. It hadn’t been an intentional, logical action, but one spurred by terror, and now, as he sits here in the calm pool of adrenaline fueled fear, he realizes that it had been an immense mistake. Blood trickles down from the wounds, each little hole streaming it, and even as he drops a hand to cover them, he knows before he touches them and asks for a scan.

“Computer, do a scan on the contents of the blood on my fingers, please.”

As you command Captain Shard. One moment.

He already knows the results, but even so he needs to keep talking, needs to gauge his reactions.

“One, two, three… two… three…” Shard pauses, realizes he’s unable to remember the number after it. “Three…. shit.” He resists the urge to shake his head to try to clear it. If anything, this only confirms his fear. There will be nothing he can do soon. Hopefully he’d provided enough of a distraction for Computer to tend to Mack, but there isn’t any real way to know for sure.

Captain, you have contracted a toxin. The source is suspected to be those spines you recently removed from your leg. As the computer responsible for your safety, I would advise that you make your way to the nearest medical bay.

“Hah,” Shard grunts. “Yeah.”

It’s a mild paralytic. It will slow your reactions and dull your memory.

“Thanks.”

It also appears to have anti-coagulative properties.

“Uh huh,” Shard mutters, staggering away from the little alcove, ducking under an old sign flashing an advertisement– cycles and full spins old. The hall widens into a streetway, long since overgrown with Creeper and Agnes’s Fern. Sirius Station had been full of people once.

Now? Ghosts and memories, augments and ashes.

Captain Shard clutches at his calf a moment, applying direct pressure to the three deep punctures, even as he steps out onto the street. His fingers are warm. It’s not from the actual Station temperature so much as the hot blood running around them. His hand– his whole leg– is red with it.

Captain Adial Shard, you need to seek medical attention. Your vitals are far too low for you to be upright. You are pushing your body too hard.

Tell me something I don’t know, Shard answers in his head. Out loud: “If you care so much, why don’t you send a bot?”

Captain, you and I both know that I cannot do that. Shame to you for suggesting it. All bots are sealed in Medical Ward and are under standing, Full Priority One orders not to leave until the quarantine is complete.

“Seems like it’s been a little long since that order was issued, yeah?”

Time means nothing, Computer returns silently– but the text seems almost reproachful. I cannot be released from this order by any but the one worthy of finding the command center. 

“And only one man has that access, yeah, I get it,” Shard says sharply. “I just wish it were easier to get there.”

He brushes against a curious fern, and it retracts back into its stalk to stare at him with a single eyed tendril.

Shard picks his way carefully around each stalk, frowning as his feet crunch unpleasantly on an ancient, brittle piece of hullmetal, worn down from so many maintenance cycles. The whole street feels eerie.

Captain Shard, the target you asked me to cold trace is nearing your position. I believe she has found you. Morfea is not going to let you live.

Blurrily, Shard curls his fingers against his palms. Hazily, he reaches out for a flashing pad, stumbling towards it from the darkened street. His palm meets the pad’s soft, gelatin surface, and it accepts his touch with a hiss and the screech of ancient hydraulics with too little water.

The door the pad adorns slides to the side. Captain Adial Shard takes a step through into the threshold and, breathing heavy and slow, grits his teeth as he slaps the pad on the wall next to him, simultaneously bringing in flickering light and forcing the dilapidated door to close again. Then he takes another two tottering steps into the room, barely glancing at the surroundings– a simple one room prefab, almost empty, as the inhabitants had long since evacuated. Nothing remains but cold and bitter memory. Shard makes it to the opposite wall before he slumps, shivering uncontrollably, but lifting his pistol and aiming it at the door.

He has no doubt that Morfea will find and try to kill him here. Whether or not she will succeed depends entirely on his aim, and right now he doesn’t feel capable of shooting his own foot, let alone the monster hunting him. Still, he thumbs the firing stud, shaking so badly that the barrel of the gone weaves erratically in his grip.

Biting down on his lip, he wrenches his other hand away from his blood encrusted leg– which, in scabbing over, has at least stopped its bleeding– and instead grips the haft of his weapon, locking his elbows together to keep them from shaking and throwing off his aim. His HUD shows, when he commands for it, a calculation depicting an accuracy estimate of about 70%. With the way Morfea is likely to move, Shard puts his odds more at 2%.

He doesn’t care. He is already set.

He takes a deep, calming breath, and turns his mind towards other things for a time. Morfea isn’t here right now. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his mind drifts towards Mack.

Shard had never really understood the entity known as Mack. In all the years that he’d known her– er… him… Shard had been incapable of figuring the thing out. Doubtless she– he– whatever– had been frustrated with Shard for taking so long, but from Mack’s own mouth, Mack had never really expected Shard to understand he/r. S/he wasn’t an androgyn, s/he wasn’t a mutant– Mack was always just Mack, and always would be.

Mack’s body was alluringly alien. To Shard, Mack was beautiful. Is beautiful.

To Shard, such beauty is more than worth fighting for. His fists clench as the gun begins to vibrate loudly in his hand, the hum rising to a roar in his ears.

Mack.

Shard closes his eyes again, breathing in deeply, letting it go, letting he/r go, letting Mack go in his heart and his mind.

Then the door opens, his eyes snap back, his thumb slams into the stud.

A red hot round grazes Mack’s cheek, hissing by he/r ear and making he/r whole body shake a little. “Shard, what the hell?” S/he snaps. “What are you doing?”

Shard stares, openmouthed, as the Computer’s apologetic text flashes an embarrassed pink along the bottom of his visor.

Captain Shard, I was incapable of tracking it. My systems have never been perfect. When Mack left the airlock I lost sight and only now have I regained a hold on where s/he is. I had not acquired the time to inform you of he/r disappearance.

“Mack,” Shard hisses flatly. “What are you doing? You should be sleeping in med bay by now.”

“So your plan was to send me there before Morfea could get at me?” Mack asks, equally flat. “You’re on the right track. Keep it up.”

Shard focuses, his eyes finding the splotch of red on the side of Mack’s pale, freckled face. The angry burn is swollen already. His overzealous trigger finger had touched off the stud, but had also thrown his aim, or Mack would be sporting a cloud of expanding red and pink mist for a face.

“Fuck,” Shard breathes, pushing himself to his feet and taking a step towards his Fluid friend. “Are you alright?” He reaches out, and Mack stares up at him with those blank steel eyes.

“I haven’t been right for damn close to two years now, Addy,” Mack replies quietly. Shard’s fingers brush he/r cheek. Mack winces, but doesn’t draw back. “You know that you’ll need me if you want to beat her.”

Shard closes his eyes, not trusting his voice, barely trusting his thoughts.

You’ll get hurt, He thinks, as plain as can be.

So what? Mack replies, he/r psionic presence overlapping with Shard’s, though s/he is obviously unimpressed. I get hurt all the time. If you don’t have me with you, you’ll die.

You don’t know that, Shard returns. The thought of losing any part of Mack is making him sick to his stomach. He’d been ready before, now he’s sure he can’t handle life without he/r.

Yes, I do, Mack transmits quietly. I know your limits better than you, Shard. If you fight Morfea alone, you will die.

“I don’t understand,” Shard whispers, voice cracking a little. “Mack…”

Oh, stop being so melodramatic, Mack’s voice says into his mind. The Fluid reaches out and taps his forehead lightly, and for a moment he/r face softens. S/he mouths the words as s/he whispers them in Shard’s head.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Shard closes his eyes.

“Fine,” He says, a little more sharply than he means to. “But stick close to me, and if you so much as feel a pinch from her–”

“I’ll let you know. You act as though we’ve never partnered up before,” Mack interrupts dryly.

“If this goes wrong, we might not have the chance again,” Shard replies, voice tight.

He straightens and, slipping his hand down to clasp Mack’s, lets the Fluid lead him away from the prefab and out onto the wild streets. With his other hand, he gently touches the firing stud on his pistol, priming the charge again. He’s about to load it when Mack speaks.

“Don’t bother, Shard,” Mack says quietly.

“I’m starting the charge,” Shard starts, then replays Mack’s last sentence in his head. S/he’d answered him before he’d said anything. In fact, s/he’d answered him mere moments before the words had escaped his lips.

“Yes, but you won’t get a chance to fire if she attacks.”

“Why, she could attack at any time, right?”

“How good you are doesn’t mean a thing– she’s a psionic abomination with skin and scales. She knows you have a gun– the first damn thing she’ll take care of is that weapon, and the second thing will be you if you play into her hands.”

“I’m a good shot.”

Shard holsters the pistol, releasing the charge with the flick of his index finger and cursing quietly. Too fast. Mack would always be just a little too fast with he/r mind-reading for his comfort. He’d forgotten about that. Even when he got the last word in it never felt like he could get anywhere with he/r.

They continue their walk down the neon streets, past strands of glowing feathered fern. Shard’s hand grips Mack’s tight, as though afraid that he’ll lose he/r. The Fluid isn’t showing anything outwardly. Inwardly, Shard is certain s/he’s just as scared as he is.

Neon streets give way to an immense, softly glowing forest of metal pillars and ribs, prefabs parting and then disappearing to left and right, the path widening out into a long, flat plain stacked with overgrown boxes– in eerie, dormant pillars, covered in Creeper, snake briars. Some Agnes’s Fern stares at the pair as they walk between them, tendrils retracted, watching in solemn silence. Shard follows Mack, picking his way over a snake briar as it lunges for him, envious of the grace with which Mack moves and he/r obvious skill, even in an environment that must be alien to he/r.

“Mack,” Adial Shard starts quietly, after a while. “My computer has a cold trace on her. Couldn’t we just…?”

“No,” Mack replies simply. “The trace won’t work.”

“Computer, do me a favor and tell me where Morfea is, will you?” Shard asks.

Mack gives him a look, but within moments a small display appears at the bottom of Shard’s visor. From the security shot, Shard can make out two figures walking down a wide pathway. One of them is hunched and cat-like with a long, long tail and sharp talons, standing with difficulty on two legs, clutching at the other figure’s hand. The other is himself. He recognizes the dark blood down his back leg.

Shard whirls, spinning around and looking into the glowing dark around him. His heart beats wildly and his thumb slips down to the stud, while his other hand reaches for a slug to load. Surely it was an exaggeration.

Mack reaches out and gently pulls his hand back into he/r own. It feels strangely cold. And not like true flesh, but more like… scale… “Adial! Relax,” S/he whispers sharply. “I need you. Come on, calm down.”

“She’s right here with us,” Shard says hoarsely, tense from head to foot and shaking. “I know she’s there!”

“You saw it on the computer, right?” Mack asks, voice grim.

“Yes!”

“It’s faulty. The information is wrong, the feed is wrong– it’s under Morfea’s influence and has been this entire time,” Mack replies flatly. “Shut it down.”

Shard stops dead. Mack, takes one step more and then turns on him. He/r eyes flash, metallic. Steel… Steel.

“Shut it down?” Shard asks quietly. “And for whose benefit would that be?”

Mack’s pupils glow bright yellow, surrounded by a steel iris. He/r mouth is full of jagged fangs.

A report from Morfea’s dossier comes to Shard’s mind almost immediately.

Every single one of her victims had been killed in the same way. Disemboweled and left to die a slow, horrible death. The kicker, the thing he hadn’t understood, was how she’d managed to get close enough. True she was fast, but the victims had seemed to have been in placed without any real cover for her to hide in. It was as if she’d simply pranced up to each of them and they’d been completely unaware of her presence until they were dead. Occasionally one had been found in a room near covered with mildly radioactive burn marks from the civilian-issued gamma pistol, as if he’d been firing randomly in the hopes of hitting something.

Shard’s heart pounds in his chest again, and he pulls his hand from “Mack”, backing away as before his eyes, s/he changes.

Shard loads the slug and taps the stud, then whips the gun up as Morfea materializes where his partner used to be.

Her voice, however, is still Mack’s when she speaks, and after a split second of confusion, Shard has just enough time to process those words before a roaring presence shatters his mind and he blacks out:

“Shard! What are you doing?

 

 

Mack kneels over Shard where he lies on the floor, one hand on the pistol at his side, the other on his forehead. Beside he/r s/he can feel the presence of Morfea, who, frozen in stasis, is completely motionless, mid-swipe, claws extended and mere inches from Mack’s back.

For he/r part, Mack concentrates almost solely on keeping he/r at the edge of containment, working a double-sided battle, tending to the awful red wounds on Shard’s chest and fighting off Morfea’s attempts to break free at the same time. He/r mind shudders under the strain, and he/r breathing quickens as something similar to panic gathers in he/r heart.

Shard can’t be moved. That much is absolutely certain. S/he needs more time to deal with those wounds.

That much is also certain.

More time…

Mack stands and steps back, but not before taking the pistol up and holding it in an awkward ready position and what s/he sincerely hopes is the right way. Then, trying not to faint, s/he reverses the stasis while he/r thumb mimics what she saw Shard do, stroking the stud near the top of the grip. It seems to work– she can hear the charge being primed.

As soon as Morfea is free of her private time-bubble, Mack hurls the remnants of the energy towards Shard, freezing him in a similar state, bluish lightning crackling around him and then fading, sparks leaping around him. S/he can’t afford to keep him like that long.

But maybe- just maybe s/he’ll be able to finish this before that becomes a problem.

Morfea lands on her claws, digging them into the hullmetal to stop her momentum and gain complete control of herself. Mack would be impressed if s/he wasn’t terrified. The creature’s psionic strength had been much better than s/he had expected.

But unfocused. Morfea is, after all, an adolescent. Though given raw power by her recent advancement to the second phase of her life-circle, Morfea hasn’t had enough time to learn control.

Mack straightens shakily, the pistol primed and charged, aimed at the alien’s head, held in both hands. “Easy there,” Mack whispers. “Come on now, why are you even here?”

S/he’s glad Shard isn’t awake to see he/r trembling. She knows where it comes from. Any stage past child– from adolescent up– would release pheromones. Unique ones, specially crafted for mammalian types, to fill them with overwhelming fear. They are immensely powerful, this close. Mack is finding it difficult to remain standing, and he/r aim is anything but steady. The charge in he/r hand– the pistol’s dull hum slowly rising into a roar– as the gun shakes is not helping at all.

Morfea sits and begins cleaning herself, but her glowing eyes are fixed on Mack’s. Daring the Fluid to fire.

Mack is so startled when Morfea speaks, s/he nearly drops Shard’s pistol.

“Adial is mine,” She hisses, voice low, smoothness gone. “Find your own.”

For a moment, for one moment, Mack sees a flicker, a glimmer in Morfea’s mind, as the walls part for a moment to reveal jealousy and… and something else. Mack strikes at it, diverting some of he/r remaining psionic energies to launch a cautious bolt. It stretches the distance between their minds, but the gap is gone before he/r bolt can even land, and in the time it takes for the bolt to rebound and slam into Mack squarely, Morfea is moving, lightning fast.

Mack stumbles backwards from the force of the mental blow, and then, suddenly, is jerked right off he/r feet as a snake briar snaps around he/r ankles. He/r head slams into the deck as s/he falls, and there’s a brief sense of something immense bounding too far, over he/r. Even so, the movement is so fast that before s/he even hits, s/he feels a raking pain across the top of he/r head.

Mack catches he/rself, years of training flinging he/r into a roll. A roll which would have ended in he/r immediate death, if not for the snake briar wrapped around he/r ankles. S/he is yanked back towards the maw of the plant as Morfea’s razor claws dig into the deck where s/he would have been if Mack had been allowed to complete he/r maneuver.

The snake briar has time to start latching onto he/r ankle, and searing pain lances up Mack’s leg. Mack jerks the pistol around, points it at the briar’s general mass, and taps off the firing stud. Hastily, almost as an afterthought, s/he uses some of he/r energy to erect a quick psionic barrier.

The discharge is like thunder as it shudders through he/r, but the briar disintegrates in a flaming mess, seeds in letting out eerily human screams as they burst from the heat of the slug’s passage. The overcharged round explodes on contact with the hullmetal of the ship, and Mack is peppered with tiny fragments of superheated metal. He/r barrier holds, but can’t stop the shockwave from tearing the pistol from he/r fingers and flinging it across the deck towards Shard’s unconscious body.

Mack rolls away as the toothy vines of the dying snake briar unlatch from around he/r legs. Precognition flares in he/r head. S/he stops midroll, and Morfea slams into the deck beside he/r. In a flash, the creature leaps on Mack.

Somehow the barrier repels Morfea’s attack, literally returning the force of the creature’s leap tenfold, sending the psionic monster hurtling away.

Mack brings he/rself up to he/r knees. Morfea, staggering to her taloned feet, lets out a roar of rage.

For one, blessed moment, she leaves her mind completely open.

Mack unleashes the entirety of he/r psionic strength in one blow, putting everything s/he has into it. S/he cancels he/r shield and wipes he/r own mental defenses in the process of gathering he/rself, and then flings it all at Morfea’s unprotected psyche in one overwhelming burst.

Morfea’s mind shatters and her body reels, but she isn’t down. Now nothing but a mindless monster, she coils and leaps towards Mack like a murderous spring, unheeding anything but raw, primal fury. She is an unstoppable force, and Mack, who lifts up he/r hands weakly in futile defense, is about to be crushed. The Fluid closes he/r eyes.

A shot thunders out.

The round slams into the side of Morfea’s body and tumbles her through the air for a good fifteen feet before she slams into the bulkhead. She leaves a trail of blood on the wall before she rolls back on her belly and lies there, unmoving.

Shard, from where he propped himself up on the deck, lowers the pistol and slumps against the hullmetal.

Mack comes back to he/rself after a moment, eyes opening, snapping to Morfea, then to Shard and the steaming, vacuum-capable revolver in his hand.

“No,” S/he breathes. S/he can’t stand– s/he just crawls over to him, putting a hand to his shoulder and rolling him over on his back. “Shard…”

How had he broken he/r stasis?

His eyes are closed. His breathing is shallow, but, as s/he leans over him, putting a useless hand on his chest, he smiles. Mack gulps down he/r feelings for a moment, and takes quick stock of he/r options. S/he’s out of energy. S/he could pull some from reserves, but to do so would risk losing control and becoming like Morfea. A feral.

Mack takes Shard’s helmet off. It can’t be doing him much good right now.

S/he finds, as s/he strokes Shard’s short black hair, that s/he could bear it if it meant s/he could save him…

Mack closes he/r eyes and opens a door in the back of he/r mind, slowly at first, letting just a crack show…

An alarm breaks he/r out of he/r semiconscious state, startles he/r from he/r trance. It’s a dull beep, but sufficiently disturbing enough to make he/r pay attention. S/he searches, spending precious seconds attempting to find out where the noise had come from. Following it to its source, the Fluid finds a short, black panel on the wall. S/he doesn’t recognize any of the symbols on it. Whatever it’s written in, it isn’t Standard. S/he catches sight of a terminal, set in just above it, with characters s/he can read.

Adial Shard’s lifesigns are critical. Dispatching medical assistance bots. Do not apply psionic pressure to Captain Shard’s wounds. The cuts created by Morfea’s claws are filled with a toxin that reacts violently to mental command. Scans indicate that Morfea is still living. Do what is necessary.

The computer’s words end there. No more seem forthcoming, though Mack waits a few seconds just to be sure.

Mack turns, walks back to Shard, tears strips of he/r simple white suit away, wraps them around his wounds, and finally turns to Morfea’s unconscious form. Her breathing is ragged and the creature is lying in a pool of its own blood.

She’d killed Shard’s partner, attacked Adial Shard, and nearly killed Mack he/rself. To leave her alive would be the most dangerous thing Mack feels s/he could possibly do.

Mack retrieves the pistol from Shard’s unconscious hand and does exactly what she feels is necessary.

 

 

“It’s not a perfect universe,” Mack whispers quietly, much, much later. S/he kneels next to Captain Shard’s medical bed, hands folded on his arm. “I think we can be sure of that.”

“It isn’t,” Shard agrees. “If it were, these beds’d be a lot more comfortable.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah.”

Shard sighs, closing his eyes a moment. He opens them again and stares at the ceiling.

“You loved her,” Mack says softly.

“She was like a daughter to me, Mack,” Shard says, voice breaking a little. “I helped raise her, you know that. You shut yourself down to these thoughts when you’re on the job, but…”

“I know.”

Shard is silent a while. Then he takes a deep breath and lets it out in another sigh.

“Well, I’m sure you made the right choice.”

“We’ll see,” Mack replies lightly.

Quiet descends again. Captain and Fluid lock gazes, then let them fall away, eyes drifting elsewhere, neither one willing to bear witness to the pain of the other.

“Archon will pay for what he made her into,” Shard says suddenly, fiercely. “I’ll punt him out the nearest airlock.”

“Archon is out of our reach right now, Shard,” Mack’s voice is matter-of-fact. “Besides that, I wouldn’t want you to kill him so fast.”

“Why not?”

“There might be a way to reverse it.”

“Reverse…?” Shard starts, then it hits him. “Morfea? You think she can still be saved?”

“I think if anyone knows how, it’ll be that bastard Archon. In the meantime, stasis isn’t that bad. It’s like… a long sleep. When she wakes up, maybe she’ll be right again,” Mack smiles a little, then shakes he/r head.

“I told you about her when I woke up, I know, but I’m still curious,” Shard whispers, leaning over onto his side and wincing. “How did you know I didn’t want her killed?”

Mack rolls he/r eyes. “You shot her with a tranq, Shard. You had phosphorescent rounds loaded the entire time, but you never shot a single one at her. Under the effects of her pheromones you were trying your damnedest not to kill her. Even when she screwed with your perceptions and made me start to look like her, you still hesitated. If you really had wanted her dead, you would’ve fired at the slightest hint of her.”

“Ah. Well, when you put it like that, it sounds perfectly obvious.”

“You’re an idiot, Shard,” Mack says affectionately, and runs a hand through his black hair. He opens his mouth as if about to protest, but closes it again when he sees he/r expression. Mack grins down at him.

S/he leans forward until h/er lips graze his forehead.

“But you’re my idiot.”

Adial Shard, his body on fire in many more ways than one, pushes past the pain to embrace his Fluid friend. They cling to each other, lost, desperate, and certain of only one thing.

 

 

Pull away from Sirius Station, so filled with memory and regret, ancient and spinning forever through space. Watch it turning slowly, and see the lights on the station, beacons to draw in the lost or desperate.

See them as they are dwarfed by the star which they orbit, an immense red star that seems to set the entirety of the system ablaze.

With hope.

 

©2012 Sam Oliver [Eris]

 

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Well, here it is after forever. Sci fi, this time! You can tell because of the space. I hope you all enjoy it, because it took me quite a while! Questions, comments, criticism? Slap it down here! I’m always looking for advice and thought out comments!

-Eris