Kingsolver Mission: Go
She looked thoughtful as she boarded the Kingsolver. Jacques had positioned himself in the cockpit where he would be able to see the forty come marching into the huge, blue-lit room filled with shadow. Coyote had faded into the interior, while Tomas had wandered off into the bunks. “Quick, baby, they’ll come through any moment!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” She sat beside him. He put his arm around her. “We’re doing it,” he said. “We’re really doing it!”
She patted his hand. “Yes, love.”
Tomas crawled into bed and faced the wall. He knew better than to close his eyes. Even as he lay quietly, he could still hear his family scream. He flipped on the screen and began to push through the channels.
As Martine and Jacques watched, the blonde men began to march into the bay and towards the Kinsolver, their eyes gleaming like glass. ‘Nna led them with military relish, and Jacques watched her, imagining how she'd look with a riding crop in hand. It wasn’t difficult to imagine her in boots and black garters. Perhaps she had a setting for that.
Martine squeezed his hand. She was thinking of features she wanted to ask for: sleek curves and silver skin; empathy and X-Ray vision. And dischargable knives. Lots of them. Was there any limit?
The blanks flooded towards the bunkroom, but Martine commanded one to sit in the chair just behind hers.
“Martine, he said they would need to rest,” Jacques said.
“I just want to get a look at him,” she purred. “He was very expensive. Did you know that?” she said to the man, who gave her only a flat stare. “It’s terribly expensive to be an expendable man.”
“I imagine it must be,” he said, slowly.
“Oo!” she said.
He gazed at her. “You are pleased.”
“Your voice is lovely,” she said. “Very deep. It’s so nice, isn’t it, when someone has anticipated exactly what you’d like!”
“Yes,” he said. “It is good.”
“I’ll call you Number One. Number One, I’d like you to say something for me. Tell me,” she reached back to touch his face. “Tell me you’re expendable.”
“Yes, Mistress,” said Number One. “I am expendable.” He stared past her, through the Glaspex, at 'Nna's retreating form.
“Oh, well done, Jacques.” She moved to stand again beside Jacques in the cockpit. The Kingsolver hummed happily as it vaulted through the bay of Orbital 9, and back out into open space, heading straight for the Frontiers. “I’ve always wanted golems! Personalities can be such an encumbrance.”
Jacques kissed her. “My wicked witch.”
“My wicked man,” she smiled. Number One sat quietly, his large, short-nailed hands resting peacefully on his knees.
“Anyhow, we’ve soul enough between the two of us, haven’t we?” she said. “All the kindling we need for a new world.”
“Aren’t you forgetting someone?” Jacques put his hand on her stomach. She took off her long jacket, revealing a simple tank top and tattoos on the backs of her arms.
“Yeah, hellO? I have a soul,” Coyote said, materializing behind them.
“Don’t be ridiculous, ‘Yote. Of course you haven’t,” Jacques said.
Days passed. Jacques discovered, to his delight, that the blanks had all been outfitted with games. After a few games of Gok they switched to group chess, and then an ancient game called Red Rover which made Martine furious because of the clatter.
Bored, she finally resorted to coaxing Tomas out of his room. They sat on the deck and drank tea, talking about their pasts.
“Mining isn’t what people think,” he said. “It’s good work. It’s absorbing, having to calibrate everything just right. And when you find a payload! It’s like winning a prize.”
"You miss it," she said.
“Did your whole family enjoy it as much as you did?”
“I think so. We had a nice routine. Drink a little coffee, program the machines for the day. Set the lenses to examine the rock. We even had a little dog. He’d sit with us—you should have seen him when Robbie, me and Dad would have to go down in our suits. He got so worried we talked about making him a little suit of his own so we could bring him along.” He smiled ruefully. “Mom would'nt let us. I guess she never--hey, what's wrong?”
Martine had stood up abruptly; she stared at the wall. “Did you feel that?”
“Something—-we skidded up against something. I don’t know. Stay here. Jacques? Jacques?” She left Tomas on the deck and scrambled down the ladder. The halls were empty.
“Hello? Anyone?” She found Jacques with Numbers Five through Eight in the cockpit. The blanks swiveled at her.
“Something is wrong,” Eight said.
“What is it?”
He pointed at the darkness on the screen. “They’re coming. They know what we are.”
He shook his head. “That is all that they will tell me, mistress.”
Then a strange sound began to ring through the ship—-a kind of scrabbling. “Its attacking!” Jacques pulled Martine close to him as he began to flip quickly through screens. “Look there, at this one--” A flickering mass had circled the belly of the Kingsolver. The edges of it were amorphous and flickering.
“Can you get closer?” she said. “What is it?”
“Them,” he said, peering at the screen. "It's made of small parts, all moving together. Like a hive.”
“Maybe we can lose them,” she said. He cranked the ship up to full gear, propelling them forwards. But the mass only clove tighter.
“They are Mituants,” number Eight said. “You cannot lose them.”
“Mituants? But look-they’re disappearing.” Sure enough, the hive had dissolved away. And so had their peculiar sound. “No,” Eight said.
“They are here,” said number Five.
“What is here?” Martine said, shrilly.
From the deck there came a wild scream. “Tomas!” She pulled her gun and ran back to the deck.
“Help her!” Jacques said. But the blanks all sat down stolidly. "What are you doing? Quick! We have to help her!" He began to run after Martine but came back to the blanks to pull at them. "Jesus! You have to help me. Help me, Now," he said. It was the override word the Iceman had given him.
“No,” they said. “It is useless. We are going to die.”
“Help or I’ll shoot!”
The blanks did nothing. “It does not matter," they said. "We are all going to end. The Mituants are machines. they are too strong. You cannot stop them. It takes a god to kill a god.”
“Machines aren't gods!” he said. From the deck, Tomas screamed again, and then there was silence. “Martine?!” Jacques said. “Martine!"
“That is disputable,” Eight said.
“You go to hell,” Jacques said. He began to shoot his investments.
Coyote stood in front of the long mirror on Aft Deck, covered in cold sweat. He was stripped naked, staring at himself. There was something about the way Martine & Jacques had looked at him. With pity. Dismissal. "Of course you don't have a soul, 'Yote," they said. What weren't they telling him? He began to search his body for a Makers Mark. At first he'd felt relief, as he had continued to look without finding. But then he thought to sort through his hair. His hair was thick, and made slow going. So he burnt it off with one of the kitchen laser. He had to know.
Sure enough, there it was. Small but unmistakable-- a cock-shaped mole, stamped behind his right ear. "You're a cog in someone else's wheel. Just like me." That was what 'Nna had said. So she'd known. Maybe she'd even seen him made. The thought was horrifying. His own face on a rack with a thousand others--he pulled at his skin, wondering what he was made of.
He could bleed, he was sure of that. But he'd never broken a bone, never been sick, at least not that he could remember.
Memories! He had almost no memories. Jacques told him he'd been found on a Rush shuttle, the only surviving member of a brave party that had ventured too far into the Frontiers. That was why they wanted him, Martine & Jacques--for his experience, they'd said.
And he'd believed them. He stretched the skin around the mark, and stared at it. He'd believed them. Stupid. Like a stupid animal. Like a stupid machine. Was that what he was? Just a machine?
Well. They'd underestimated him. He rooted through his clothes for his gun. He wasn't a slave a cog, a commission or anything else. He was just-- himself. He was Coyote.
Was that even his name?
Someone would pay. They couldn't do this to him. Call him up out of nothing, and then expect him to obey! Like a dog! He looked at himself in the long mirror. Naked and bald, wild-eyed. He looked terrifying. Good, he thought. He grabbed the laser and went down the hall. "Martine!"
He would show her just what it was they'd called up.
“Martine!” Jacques cried. He rounded the corner, and his feet were jerked out from beneath him. "Yaa-"
“Ssh!” Martine hissed. She was tucked into a corner outside the deck, her gun at the ready. Her eyes were raw as she jerked her chin towards the deck, telling him to look. He followed her gaze to where Tomas lay collapsed on the kitchen table, his skin covered in glittering seeds.
At least, they looked like seeds. Slowly, he realized they were some kind of instruments, which had burrowed into and through the body of the boy. The body looked collapsed, as if all the matter inside it had been sucked out. A dark syrup pooled around the chair’s legs, oozing from Tomas' hands, his fingernails. And as the strange seeds moved over the dead man’s face, Jacques realized they had liquefied Tomas’ insides.
Now they were drinking him. Like venomous beads at his tear ducts and pores, they were sucking him dry. Other beads flitted around the room, occasionally diving through solid matter. It was impossible to see how they did it: they did not seem to even bore a hole. Martine looked at Jacques, her hand on her belly. She kissed him as she held up the gun. “I will see you in another life, my love," she said.
She closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. Then blood was everywhere. The hive filled the air, was flying towards him. “Nyaaah!” he said, throwing himself at them.
He felt them pass through his skin, but he flew on. Through the walls of the Kingsolver, into space, into nothing. He hurtled between stars. He was cold.
He was very cold.
“Relax,” a voice said. “Welcome. You are on Orbital 9, the creation station of the Iceman. Your mind has been successfully…”
News of the strange attack spread quickly through the Oup Hind. The last blank to die sent out a broadcast. Security footage of the incident, broadcast as if it were a distress call.
And the footage was distressing. It began with screams. A naked man could be seen flinging himself around in the background, covered in an infestation of what looked like black bees. A man sat calmly in the foreground, his expression remote; his blonde hair perfectly combed. "As I sit before you now, I am a dead man," he said. "We are under attack. Our attackers call themselves the Mituants, but the Mituants are dead. These are their machines. Machines the Mituants created." He leaned forward. "Angry machines."
The footage flickered to the kitchen deck, where Coyote, still screaming, was climbing the walls, having just seen the bodies of Jacques & Martine. Their bodies are covered with the bee-like seeds. Dark puddles on the ground heaved as if they were alive. Seeds burrowed into Coyote's body, and he slid down the wall, his head jerking about wildly. As he puddled onto the floor, a Mituant bleeds out from his tear duct. Then another, and another. Thick as slugs, they crawled down his face and entered his mouth.
Now we see the blonde man again, as he adjusts the screen to face him again. A glittering mass has filled the hall behind him. The other blanks sit on the floor, patiently waiting to end. One by one they are covered by Mituants and slump forward.
The man turns to look at his companions. Fear flickers on his face. He takes a breath. The Mituants cover him, crawling into his ears and inside his face. His eyes and mouth filled with shining black slugs, he speaks in a voice no loner his own.
"The Mituants are here. We are here, and we are coming."
See how the Phyrnosians & Rushers respond to the attack on the Kingsolver in: battle!