Monday, September 21, 2015

In Transit Monsters 19 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Nasr (H minus 7 years, 4 months)

I let Dom almost tug my arm out of my socket.  Part of the joy of this sort of thing, spending time with him, was the tugging thing.  I don't know where he pulled the bad habit from.

"You are really into this."  I observed.

"C'mon.  It's a rodeo, Al.  You gotta see this."  He gestured at the bull riding going on below us.  "You only get this sort of thing here."

I looked down, a hundred feet below us.  This part of Haven had been heavily settled by rural Argentinian and American Settlers.  All of whom loved their rodeo.  Loved it.

Haven had been one of the rare worlds with a biome close enough to Earth that it took little time for us to migrate to it.  It had been mostly plants, with few fungus or even insects.  We'd moved in and twenty years later, entire swaths of the garden world had looked more like Earth than alien.

The closest thing I could remember back home had been camel racing and possibly the idiotic practice of hacking autodriving cars in order to compete in driving tricks.  Even then, growing up, I'd preferred Soccer and Esports.

"My name isn't Al."  I said.

"And my name is Domingo Badarte, not Dom."  Dom said.  "I don't complain."

"And you know this isn't that real."

"So, they are artificial lifeforms.  That doesn't make things any less interesting, Al.  I mean, each one is programmed to give the rider a unpredictable challenge."

Biodesigning artificial lifeforms that didn't have conscious capacities for pain had happened years ago.  None of the animals in this rodeo were real.  Along with labmeat, humans didn't need ranches or to maintain herds of livestock anymore.  Yet we still had to have rodeos.  Not in dreamspace, but out here in the real world.

Dom watched transfixed as a woman on a bull below us narrowly dodged a horn.

Six seconds.  That meant she hadn't scored or something.  I barely understood the rules of these things.

"Without a BrainSys."  I shook my head.  "Worlds get overrun, and people are busy trying to find entertaining ways to get themselves killed here."

"Hmm."  Dom said.  That meant he heard me, but chose not to acknowledge it with an actual answer.  We'd done this talk before.  His guttural way of putting up with me.

"Have to enjoy life, Al."  Dom said.  "This is life.  Stinking animal shit, people falling in the mud, bad jokes by announcers..."

"Yeah."  I paused.  The battlefields on the outer worlds had been nightmarish.  The Enemy had been relentless.  "I just..."

"Things you can't unsee."  Dom finished my words for me.  "Sorry that I don't what to say about that.  Aliens.  Even three years later, I still don't know what to think about it."

"I'm glad I've got a home still."  I said.  "Some planets have been lost... but they still take fewer planets than we settle each year."

"And yet, we haven't won a battle against them yet."

"Yet."  I scratched my chin nervously.

Dom and I stood there together above the fray of the bull-riding for a moment or two.  My BrainSys recorded it.  I filed it away in my personal dreamspace.

Then something screamed from the sky above us.  The pit of my stomach fell out from under me.  Not human screams.  Something else.  Something from high above.

Locusts descended onto the grandstands.  I use locust in the broad sense.  A meter long, each long, slender thing had six fluttering wings.  No eyes.  Like so many of the Enemy's different composite members, it had no eyes and looked pinkish orange.

Their stomachs looked engorged.  Each of their carapaced limbs ended in twisted tentacles.  The locusts landed like felines, their tentacled limbs sticking to surfaces.  People ran from them.

I grabbed Dom and went on automatic.  We ran.  You don't stay around in situations like that.  There must've been forty or fifty of the locusts.  They didn't attack anyone.

They just sat there, their bellies hanging off them.  We rushed for the nearest stairs.  I remembered yelling, backing orders and getting people to move in a organized fashion.

Then one of the locusts opened its mouth.  It expelled slime and something from inside its abdomen.  A human-shaped creature rose from the slimy mess.

It stood up.  I tried not to focus on it.  A child.  A naked boy, probably no more than four or five.  His face and head was covered in pinkish slime.  It clung like some sort of fungal growth.  He tilted his head.

I froze like everyone else did.  Because no one, not even someone like me who'd been in battles with the Enemy, had ever seen a human come with them.  The Enemy always sent its own composite members.

"It's a kid."  Dom said.  "His face.  His eyes.  They just... that slime."

"Like one of those ants."  I said.  "Fungal growth taking over the neurons.  Reprogramming the host for its own survival."

"Ick."

The tiny slime-covered child looked at the stunned crowd.  Then the locusts expelled more small children.  Each child was naked.  Each of their heads were covered in slime.

"Choice."  They all chanted together.  A unison no choir could ever hope to copy.  Almost like a computer in its sheer scale.  "Choice.  Infection can choose."

Each child pointed at it's slime-covered head.  Then they tilted their heads and looked at us.  We couldn't see their eyes.  But the slime left little pockmarks, little indents where their eyes should have been.  Only their mouths had been left open.

"I repeat."  Each child said in their unison voice, each not moving from where the locusts had vomited them up.  "Choice.  Infection can join.  Or Extermination."

Dom and I got down the stairs.  We kept going.  You do that in a crisis.  If you can't solve the problem, get away from it.

"This can't be happening."  Dom said.  "They haven't- why didn't they give a general warning?"

"I don't know."  I said.

"If they knew they'd landed on Haven they need to tell people.  This is like a major hub."

"Dom-"

"Why didn't they tell you or-"

"Dom, I don't know.  We can't know."  I said.  "Lines of communication go down.  Things fall apart.  Don't think about that."

"I'm no soldier-"

"You want to survive?  Listen to me."  I grabbed him and held him close.  "Those were the smallest kind of thing the Enemy is composed of.  Worse, they had to get those kids from somewhere."

"Oh."  Dom started to shake.  The ground trembled underneath us.  Something big.  Something big heading toward our position.

The Enemy had to be close to us.  A cyst had thousands of members.  Thousands upon thousands.  I tried to pretend to not be scared.

I pushed my fear down.  I had to do whatever I could to save Dom.  Haven didn't matter.  I didn't matter.  The most important thing for me was him.

Without him, I didn't have a reason to fight.  I didn't have a reason to live either.
Aftermath 19
#InTransitMonsters continues on.  Flashback times!  Going back seven years to the fall of Haven, one of Nasr's past moments of crisis.  Loads of fun writing this, IDK why.

This is a #FirstDraft bit of madness I've been churning out the last few months.  Technology as messiah.  Humanity on the brink of extinction.  A strange alien presence.  Weird things because weird things are kewl.  Magical names where usually you'd use complicated physics terms.

Obviously Nasr didn't feel that completely ruined by the outcome of this event.  And his relationship with Dom, clearly colors how he later deals with the monsters, Miri and Ghale.  But there is also the theme of betrayal here too, I guess.  The aliens ask for people to convert.  They go out of their way to ask "hey, we'll let you join."

Is humanity worth letting live on then?  The aliens don't seem to have a problem with collecting a few for themselves, but we don't know, is it because they want some for a preserve, or is it a tactic?  Is it something humane or something maddeningly alien?