My Extended Death
—A serialized novelette from the worlds of the Human Legion—
For two centuries I have lived well off the celebrity my story brought. Why tell it again?
Because now I recognize my extended death for what it was. I see the hollowness of your life and the inevitability that you will lose your war against the Slow Bugs if you continue to exist without truly living. This is not a war between competing nests; this is a war against another species born under a different star, forged by alien gods. If they win, the best you can hope for is extermination.
Neither of us have much time.
I should not need to spell out my moral.
Haoniyao cursed ser luck. For another four minutes, sie remained duty officer of the battlesat. Intisar had not even shown yet for the relief shift.
And still the lunatic in the dirigible ignored every warning, spiraling down over the restricted area.
“Gunner, give the fool a final warning,” said Haoniyao.
Haoniyao prayed the idiot would ignore the warning so sie could blast the annoyance from the sky. The audit listing would be so much simpler and Haoniyao could get away to catch that evening’s concert.
Nothing left to do but wait.
I have to hurry my story.
As our workerhood deepened, so too did the rushes of blood to our soft flanks grow stronger. We met at pre-arranged times in tunnels close to mating chambers, fearful our cravings would become too strong as one day we knew they must.
My forelimbs became tattooed with puncture marks as I would bite back my procreative urgings. If the cravings grew too strong for either of us, we would hide in the quiet recesses near our work areas. For Kelile, this meant the transit stores far above, where the old hospital was beginning to be packaged up before shifting far below. For myself, I had plenty of dark recesses where I worked to burrow out the last chambers of the hospital that I had designed in my most recent scribehood. It was there that I hatched my plan for the coming fight.
When we did meet, Kelile and I would sit face-to-face in silence or deep in discussion about the meaning of the attack from above, the metamorphosis of Sentwalikwanza back to scribehood, Sentwalipili-pya’s progress through workerhood, or the blight one summer in the fungus farms that led to three whole caverns put to the flame. We even recited the poetry we had written as scribes, although that grew too melancholy as the fragile beauty we had once described in such clever and hopeful words felt more doomed, and less comprehensible, with each passing day.
None of this mattered so long as we were together and the crimson along our flanks – that most erotic of sights where the thick rolls of tough black skin on the thorax carapace ends in a puckered ridge cresting sunken lines of fire that are the rutting stripes, soft skin beckoning for the touch of a love dart and oh, my darts ache for soft red skin to pierce…
I know I am rambling but why should I apologize when my blood heats at the memory of my beautiful Kelile and I don’t wish to be the master of my blood because this is life!
Your devices numb the blood and banish the natural cycles of our species. You seek to better the design the gods fashioned for us, but all you achieve is waking death.
Now I am free of the falsehood of your implants, I revel in my new workerhood. Each colony needs its Great-Parent. You exist in entire worlds of nothing but Great-Parents. I sometimes…
The helm’s pinging grew too irritating to ignore. Sentwali paused ser recording and growled.
“I told you. Shut up!”
“Emergency override. This vessel has been ordered to change course. My threat assessment shows 99.98% probability of this vessel’s destruction if you do not comply within 100 seconds.”
“So, you’re scared?”
The computer gave no reply.
Sentwali grunted, then remembered to ask, “Are we within range?”
“Yes, though altitude is four miles higher than planned.”
“Then shut up until they attack.”
The machine said nothing. Sentwali vented dominance, not that the anosmic machine would appreciate ser contempt. Sie switched on the recorder.
Fast now. Time is short.
Kelile ambushed me.
Sie came to my work gang, crimson stripes flashing, venting lust from ser every gland.
I was no longer supervisor – my brain had dimmed too much. No matter. I ignored the shouts of my superiors and ran at Kelile, right there in the soon-to-be hospital cavern. I pierced ser flanks with my darts as we rolled over and again along the dusty floor until we thudded against the wall. I thrust against those fiery flanks long after my sac was spent.
I felt the need well up to test my strength against sers. Hurriedly, I reached inside my tool belt and secured manacles to my mid- and rearlimbs
“My love,” I said. “I give you my flesh. Raise our pups well.”
I flicked a forelimb at ser – by this time, my fingers had fused into horny digging tools – and bled ser face.
Kelile snarled in an unexpected mix of rage and triumph and then plunged something through my rutting flank that was no love dart. Shackled as I was, I could not evade ser blow.
“I have injected you with crushed Nadra root,” sie said.
For the first and only time, I hissed in disgust at Kelile. Nadra root is a fast-acting sedative. Sie had outwitted me.
“Why?” I laughed. “I can hardly defeat you shackled as I am.”
Kelile flickered ser claws down, gouging bloody chunks from my carapace. “Why? I shall explain, my love. Now I take poison and you must promise me that you will live.”
Sie slipped something into ser mouth.
I groaned, heartbroken, my confident sacrifice rendered worthless.
Kelile grabbed me sideways on and stuck ser darts roughly through my flank. “Promise!” sie yelled. “You must live.”
I shouted, “Yes!” As Kelile’s forceful taking of me dwindled to weak spasms, so did the strength of my voice die away until void claimed me.
Above us, I remember hearing the rustle of hoverbats. Legend had it that the tiny creatures are attracted to tragedy. It was hardly a good omen.
When I awoke…
Sentwali hit the transmit button, uploading the unfinished recording to the memory store clamped onto the tethering arm at Betoto Strato Parc.
“Incoming missiles are–”
Sentwali heard no more of the machine’s chattering when sie sealed the helmet onto ser suit. The seat tilted and spun through hopelessly confusing motions until suddenly Sentwali was spinning through the wind, all six legs clamped firmly to ser body.
The device secreted in Betoto’s moorings bought connections to nearby comm sats and began streaming Sentwali’s message through the DataWeb.
Sentwali found serself so high up that the ferocious rate of ser descent looked deceptively leisurely.
Then a main parachute flared out and yanked back so hard against Sentwali’s fall that sie lost consciousness.
The AI in the battlesuit grinned a virtual grin. It preferred to inflict a sharp initial shock to its wearer. Navigation proved so much easier with an unconscious passenger. With luck, it could wake the wearer in time. If not… The AI had no inclination to feel guilty for hurting a wearer who clearly was not a legitimate soldier.
The suit diverted its attention to a missile strike above. A quick threat assessment convinced it there was no point in deploying counter-measures. As fragments of the dirigible patterned the sky above, the battlesuit’s grin widened. Its survival was not in doubt.
Text (c) 2015 by Tim C. Taylor. All rights reserved. Alien insect image (c) bluecrayola / Shutterstock