Monday, June 29, 2015

May 26 – postdated (Part 2)

Feeling what seemed to be my own thoughts, thoughts that spoke of hate for me and the baby, helped me gain a little of the real Shalia back. I flew to that screaming bit of me, the part that was pure – albeit almost insane – Shalia. I separated as best as I could from the It. It still invaded my conscience, trying to consume what small mote remained.

It was a nightmare. One moment I was terrified and trying to hide from the invader. The next moment I was the invader, determined and homicidal. Alarms sounded in the ship. I pumped adrenaline and endorphins into my unaltered legs, making them run faster than I’d ever managed before. When I came upon the enemy – any Kalquorian – I used my enhanced arm like a battering ram. I knew I was doing a lot of damage if not outright killing those who got in my way.

I wandered back and forth, two different people. The weaker Shalia me could only watch as the stronger It me left a wake of carnage as it sought the hiding place it needed.

Besides my unborn child, I feared the most for Oses and Betra. I thought Betra might try to find me, believing he could talk me down. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Oses would come hunting. Sooner or later he would find me too. If I was too far gone, if I could not regain control, the It would not stop at killing either man. That scared me enough to almost give in once more to the urge to just scream and scream and scream.

Another awful scenario would be if Oses had to kill me to save the ship and anyone the It might come across. I was fine with giving up my life in that case. I would have rather died then be the vehicle through which the It ‘purified’ the universe. But Oses was still trying to fight through the trauma of not being as much of my protector as he felt he should be. I feared he might not remain sane if he had to end my – and my baby’s – life.

I thought about trying to reason with the It. To bargain somehow. Let my child be born and then take my body. We could ask for a shuttle with which to leave the transport.

The It heard my thoughts. It immediately turned them back. Even if the Kalquorians agreed to such a deal, they would no doubt blast the shuttle and us into dust the moment it could. The It knew they considered it too dangerous to be set free. No, the plan was to hide for the few hours it would take to gain control of needed brain centers, destroy and expel the child, and finish transformation of the host. Then it would free Other One, and they would carry out their mission.

I battled to cut myself off from the It. I succeeded, once more letting myself be consumed in emptiness. Whether that was a victory or not, I’m not sure. It felt like a substantial amount of time passed as I sat in the dark, blind and deaf to whatever my body was up to. I hid there in the darkness, marshalling my will as best I could. I thought of the life I still had before me, of all I’d survived to get to where I was. I thought of my dreams and hopes of the future. I fed my determination with the love I felt for those on the ship who meant the most to me: Candy, Katrina, Betra, and Oses. I thought of the child I had not yet met but already loved.

After psyching myself up as much as I could, I began to fight my way back to the surface.

Maybe the human will is an indomitable source of strength. Maybe love is more powerful than any other force in the universe, like the songs and poems have always insisted. Maybe it was just because Oses’ bite had worn off. Or maybe the It thought I had waved the white flag and given up. Whatever it was, I was given the might I needed. I not only mentally shoved aside the startled It, I also regained control over myself.

I had no idea where the hell I was. The room around me was empty of personnel. All around me were computer stations and vids, most of them turned off. The three that were on displayed only Kalquorian letters. I had only learned to speak a little Kalquorian. I still couldn’t read but a few words of the language yet, so it was incomprehensible to me.

I could feel the It on the outside of my consciousness, trying to shove back in to regain control. I didn’t dare peek into its thoughts for fear of it taking me over again. I had the feeling that if I weakened for an instant, I would never be myself again.

I saw only one thing in that small, dimly lit room that I recognized as something I could use to my advantage. It was a com, sitting on one raised table. I hurried to it and said, “Com Weapons Commander Oses, personal frequency.”

I could have cried with relief to hear that gravel voice issuing from the speakers. “Oses here.”

“Thank the prophets,” I cried, overcome.

“Shalia? Where are you?” He almost screamed the words.

“I don’t know. I’m in some small room with a bunch of computers that I’ve never seen before.” The alarms continued to sound from behind the room’s one closed door. “I’m afraid to step out in case Security decides to shoot me on the spot.”

“They have orders not to do so, to take you alive if at all possible. Stay where you are, though. I don’t want you hurt, which is a very real probability. I can trace this com signal to find you.”

“Hurry, Oses. I don’t know how long I can keep the It under control—”

My words ended in a scream. Vicious pain slashed through my chest. It felt as if my heart was being ripped right out. I fell to the floor in a heap, with Oses’ desperate voice calling my name through the com.

“Shalia! Shalia, answer me!”

As I tried to remember how to breathe, the It came at me. It overwhelmed me, demanding my surrender. Its determination to regain control lessened the brutal pain, allowing me to recognize the real danger of the moment. My consciousness fled from the intruder, retreating back into the dark corner where I mentally barricaded myself from being swallowed. I still had that bit of me, retaining my identity as Shalia. It had been close though.

I had no control over my body once more.  The It had taken command. This time, however, not all was dark in my tiny little patch of consciousness. I could still see and hear what was going on with my usurped body.

Now that the It and I knew each other’s weaknesses, we were both on guard. I knew that the next time I took over, the organism would retaliate with mind-stealing pain. It stood ready to demolish what was left of the real me at that point. I would have to choose my next – and probably last – battle wisely.

Warned that Oses was on his way, my body got to its feet. It propelled towards the door, where it spoke with my voice but not my words. “Door, open.”

The door obeyed, humming quietly into the wall. The It looked out into a corridor I was sure I’d never been in before. It looked out carefully, listening past the claxons for any hint of others. There were voices, but they sounded distant, well beyond the corner a few feet away. The It edged out and headed quickly in the opposite direction. I kept hoping Oses would show up, but there was no sign of him or anyone from ship’s security. What remote corner of the ship had I ended up in?

Three turns down other unfamiliar halls, and we stood before an in-house transport. We boarded it, and my voice ordered, “Shuttle Bay Seven.”

I felt a chill to hear where I was being taken. It was the same bay where the It had blown out the doors the first time it took control of me.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

May 26 – postdated (Part 1)

There was no sense of time in the nothingness that claimed me. When the world outside my skull began to swim in and out of my consciousness, I had no idea if a second had passed or a decade.

I had only flashes of sight and sound at first. For some time I thought I was dreaming. Everything was hazy, like a mirage. I saw the view from my medi-bed. The diagnostic arms were over me, their lights a steadily glowing green.

Later I was looking from the bed towards the door of my room. As had become the usual, there were two Nobek guards there. Usually they stayed inside my room, but at that point they were just outside the door. They seemed to be chatting up one of the Imdiko orderlies. He smiled at the pair of grinning men, young and cute as a button as he enjoyed their attention.

Another period of blankness. It must not have lasted long because the guards and orderly were still talking. A part of my attention was on them. Another part was on the computer panel of the medi-bed.

Something different filled my thoughts. Not blankness. Not real consciousness either. More of a mapping ... I looked at a grid of energy pulses. I followed trails I had seen before, looking for something. Control commands. That was what I wanted. Now that I had subverted stasis, the warning alerts would soon tell them I was breaking free. I needed to divert their attention and finish my escape.

The first alert beeped. Another joined it. In less than a heartbeat, several medical alarms went off at once. I looked at the panels of the bed again. The lights flashed red, signaling shutdown of all major organs.

The Imdiko orderly shoved past the startled guards to get to me. In an instant the room filled with more medical staff, Tep tearing in at full speed. The guards were distracted and pushed aside in the panic. My moment had come.

I came off the bed, my fully armored arm tossing the heavy control panels away from me as if they were made of cardboard. I ignored the shouting medics, springing right for the Nobeks. I had not yet gained my full strength and capabilities, but it was now or never. Time had run out. Whether my host body was ready or not, I had to get out of Medical.

My only hope was through surprise. I had managed that, and I took full advantage of the guards’ confusion.

I brought the fully armored fist around in an arc to smash the skull of one. It made a beautiful crunching sound that brought triumphant joy I hadn’t felt in far too long. He dropped at once.

I had no real time to enjoy the victory. Though my infiltration had strengthened the other arm, the armor only extended slightly past that shoulder. I could not incapacitate the other guard so easily, especially since he had a moment to recover from his surprise. I did not try. The moment the first Nobek went down, I turned and grabbed the second. He was going for his blaster, moving in a blur. I was faster. I had him by the throat in an instant and flung him at the startled medics. Before he landed, I was already running out of Medical.

As adrenaline pumped through my body, I became aware of a tiny part of my mind screaming in horror. It had started screaming when I’d knocked the first guard down. Little by little, I had become more conscious of the terrified bit of consciousness twisting in my head, trying to escape knowledge of what I’d done.

Her. It was the weak-minded host. That irritating Earther who was always whining to herself and others about the baby.

The damned unborn child, I cursed to myself as I ran, finding the least-used corridors as I made my way to the in-house transportation system. It was that fetus which made the Earther’s body an unorganized soup and somehow managed to keep me at bay when I tried to push past. But that would end soon. All I needed to do was stay out of sight for a little while, long enough to destroy the hateful parasite and complete the transformation. I knew all the places where the vessel’s minders rarely went. I couldn’t be tracked by them either. If I could gain one of those safe places, I would win. If not, I would die ... and I would take this creature and her progeny with me.

Monday, June 22, 2015

May 26

Another dream. More information from the monstrosity trying to take me over.  As much as I hate seeing into the It’s mind, I admit we need to know as much as possible about it. It is a killer with no remorse and apparently nearly impossible to stop once it has full control of the host body. It’s not just my baby at stake. It’s everyone on this transport ... maybe everyone in the universe. Because if there are more of this thing out there...

There were once many of them, the ones that attacked the peaceful villages of Barinem. After the Its had killed off the Bi’isils that created them, Bi’is sent ships after the organisms. Not to collect them, but to destroy them.

The It remembered detecting something in its body, some infection that spread quickly among the other armored creatures like it. The infection targeted the host bodies that had been overtaken by the It, Other One, and the rest.

I’ll relate the story as the It, because it felt like my own memory. I don’t identify as the It in any way, but it’s easier to tell it this way. This is what I told Tep and Feru:

We had detected the Bi’is hunter-killer crafts in orbit over the planet, hovering in space over the research facility. At first we sent messages of greetings to the Makers, assuring them we stood ready to protect order and purity for the kingdom of Bi’is. When we were met by silence, it puzzled us. Then we began to fall ill, a weakness the flawed original Maker had not accounted for. The hunter-killers left, believing us destined to destruction.

We quickly realized we were under attack by those who had responded to the emergency calls of the research team. Of course they wanted us destroyed ... only flawed beings would come to the rescue of other flawed beings. Knowing they were impure and we were the cure for that, they set out to destroy us.

Other One said it best: “Bi’is is in danger of such creatures destroying its perfect order. We may be all that stands in the way of chaos. We must somehow survive to protect it. These bringers of disarray must be thwarted even as we fall.”

We set about destroying all the records of the Maker’s research. All samples and files were systematically erased or eradicated. If we failed to get off the planet, we could not allow the lesser creatures to have the technology. We figured those Makers not yet damaged on Bi’is could reverse engineer our perfection, to be used to the higher good.

Yet there was another obstacle to our mission, one we hadn’t counted on. The Maker had set up a failsafe device, designed to destroy the facility to keep it from enemy hands. By accessing the files, we set it in motion.

Other One and I had been readying the shuttles for our return to Bi’is. We knew someone there would be able to cure this malady the imperfect ones had set loose upon us. Even if our current host bodies succumbed and died due to the illness, we would revert to hibernation state and survive in our small initiating habitats. Once we were on the home world of the Perfect Makers, they would re-establish us on new hosts. Then we would be able to resume our mission to clear all chaos, starting with Bi’is itself.

The shuttle hangar was some distance from the research facility. When the rest of our number triggered the failsafe , Other One and I were the only ones not destroyed when the explosions went off. When the two of us searched through the rubble, all that was left was bits and pieces. No hibernation habitats were left intact that we could find. Meanwhile, Other One and I were becoming sicker all the time. We had to get underway for the homeworld, or Bi’is might very well be lost to the chaos.

It was at that point when the real Shalia woke to tell the others what I’d learned from the It.

Tep and Feru were quiet for a little while, mulling over my tale. Oses came in while they thought it over. Since everything to do with me is recorded these days due to the It’s invasion, he was able to replay my account. Naturally, he was the first one to ask for clarifications.

“You are sure that besides your parasite and the one that took over Candy, all the other organisms were destroyed?”

That was the part that worried me the most too. “The It is almost positive. All that was found were bits and pieces after the explosion. The It and Other One couldn’t make an accurate count of destroyed hibernation bracelets in the debris. They were still certain the research facility was where all the rest of the organisms were when it blew up.”

Tep scowled at nothing. “So whatever species hosted these organisms was blasted into powder too. There was nothing recognizable about the remains?”

“No. Almost all that was left was ash and burnt parts of the building’s structure.” I tried a weak joke. “That’s not how I want to rid myself of the It, Doc.”

“No.” He tried out his own smile and failed. “I would not recommend it.”

Oses made an impatient sound. “We have to find out the last of this thing’s story up until Candy bought it from the vendor. Shalia is running out of time.”

He stopped there, but I had a pretty good idea of what was left unsaid. At the rate I was getting the It’s memories, they would have to take my daughter from me before we got to what we needed to know. Once I was no longer pregnant, the It would have no barrier to taking me over.

“I have an idea,” Feru ventured. He looked extremely uncomfortable and his voice was hesitant.

“Anything and everything is appreciated,” Tep said.

Feru seemed pained as he glanced at me. “We’ll have to keep it from Shalia’s guest.”

“Go,” I said wearily. “Talk amongst yourselves out of the hearing of the enemy.”

They left the room. I lay there, thinking my dark thoughts. It seemed like forever before the three men returned.

I didn’t even get the chance to try to read their expressions. The next thing I knew, Oses’ head pressed against the side of my face and twin darts of pain stabbed my neck. Terror overcame me in an instant. The weapons commander was biting me, filling me with his intoxicating venom. Last time that happened, I’d temporarily lost my identity to the It. I’d been sure if it happened again, I wouldn’t come back.

I shrieked. “No!”

Feru’s voice floated through the room. “The organism is affected by the venom too, Shalia. We may be able to get those answers while it is drugged.”

“But it recovers faster than me,” I sobbed. “I won’t get back my identity this time!”

Oses stroked the other side of my face even as he stripped me of my defenses. The pain of the bite was gone, and the first sweet vapors of euphoria wafted through my skull. The It reacted. I had the sensation of it trying to draw away as we were drugged.

“This is our best shot, Shalia,” Tep said. “Our only chance to find out the truth. I’m sorry.”

I knew he was right. I also felt positive I would be sucked into that darkness as I had before and this time I would stay there. It made me want to resist. If it hadn’t been for the stasis field, I would have fought Oses with everything I had. I couldn’t face losing me.

However, I had no way to avoid it. The It and I succumbed, with me temporarily in power. Oses moved away, licking a drop of my blood from his lips as he drew back to look down on me.

“I am sorry, my love,” he whispered.

Feru leaned over me, to make me focus on his face. “Shalia, are you in command of yourself?”

I floated, tranquility now my friend. I checked on the It, feeling it almost slumbering in a wash of unaccustomed peacefulness. “I got this,” I singsonged. It was nice to feel so good. Terror was long gone.

“Can you access the It’s memories? Can you see in its consciousness at all?”

Armored hands reaching for a Bi’isil, the alien screaming in my head. Ripping. Tearing. Strangely colored fluids spraying. Yuck.

“I don’t like what it sees,” I whined. “I don’t want to look.”

“I know. But we need to know what it did after the research facility exploded. Where did it and Other One go once they realized they were the only two left?”

That memory was much better, less gross. “We got in the shuttle. We headed for Bi’is to protect it.”

“Did you make it there?”

“No.” I pouted, feeling mildly petulant with the It. I fell more and more in sync with its presence, though we were still separate. It was easier to tell the story through its view though. My voice went from dreamy to cold and distant. “Those who had sent the infection had left behind a couple of ships in orbit just in case some of us survived. They’d hidden out of range so we wouldn’t detect them until it was too late. The hunter-killers attacked our shuttle.”

“And then what?”

I sneered at the fool. “What do you think? A simple transport shuttle can’t fight hunter-killers, can it? It can’t outrun them either. So we were left with one option. We evaded fire as best as we could and went straight for one of the enemy. We managed to crash land in one of their fighter bays. Then we left the shuttle and went through the warship, fighting and killing its crew. Once we had done that, we used that vessel to attack and destroyed the other hunter-killer ship.” I felt pride from the It, and my lips curled in a smile to feel its pleasure at having overcome such odds. The strong had prevailed. Chaos had been defeated.

“So you headed to Bi’is in the hunter-killer ship. But you didn’t make it, correct?”

I sighed. Defeat was such a foreign concept to the It. Regret that we had been delayed in our mission for so long filled me. “Right. The infection was going through our host bodies like wildfire, killing them though the disease couldn’t touch me or Other One. In fact, it was quite soon after our victory that we had to give up the hosts and retreat to the hibernation cells.”

Feru smiled at me. Tep smiled at me. Even Oses nodded his head, as if he was proud. I felt warm all over at their approval. Even these creatures, lost in their madness and imperfections, appreciated what I’d been through. They saw how I had done all in my power to make the universe the ordered paradise it should be. They knew I’d done my best.

Feru asked, “What of the host bodies? Can you remember what they looked like?”

I thought back to my last memory after I’d retreated from the host to let my energy be preserved within my hibernation cell. I saw the carcass of what I’d inhabited, what I’d taken over and perfected for too short a time. I had to laugh at the genius of it all. My first act of restoring sanity was to have transformed one of the most unruly creatures in the galaxy. “Tragooms. Other One and I transformed Tragooms.”

Feru chuckled with me. “You find that funny.”

“Of course. Such disorganized creatures, always fighting everyone, including each other. It is perfect justice, in its way.” I mentally shook my head at the irony.

“How did you and Other One end up on Darotkin?”

I frowned as I tried to recall my journey from the warship on automatic pilot heading for Bi’is. “It’s a bit fuzzy, because I only come out of hibernation when a potential host touches me. But some of the imperfect Makers ... such a contagion that needs to be eradicated ... they intercepted the ship. They recognized what we were, so I suppose there were records of our creation off Barin. They placed us in quarantine so we couldn’t infect potential new hosts or be revived. Then they stored us in a containment pod. It was of Adraf origin. They did not want us to be traced back as their work.”

“Weapons like you and Other One are against the Galactic Council’s charter,” Feru said.

I smiled. I had already learned that from the records I’d downloaded when we’d destroyed the inferior Bi’isils on Barin. “We are unstoppable. Lower life forms are right to fear us.”

“Do you know where the inferior Bi’isils placed your containment pod?”

“We were buried on a moon on the edge of the Dantovon system, designated LXS-42. Apparently there was a war while I was in hibernation. The race of this current host, the species you call Earther, occupied it.”

Oses nodded. “During the war, the Earthers set up bases along many trade routes to harass our ships.”

I said, “One of the Earther soldiers dug up the containment, along with some failed experiments the Bi’isils interred there. He thought we were just pretty bracelets, much as Other One’s present host Candy did. The soldier had the intention of giving us to his wife and mother on Earth.” I made a face. “I kept hoping he would put one of us on. With the weapons and ships available through his government, Other One and I would have made a fine start of things months ago.”

Feru pursed his lips, thinking hard about the matter. “Did you ever make it to Earth?”

“No. The base on LXS-42 was suddenly evacuated. Other One and I were left behind in the confusion.”

“Armageddon,” Oses muttered. “Most of the Earthers off-planet raced home when it happened, hoping to find their families.”

Feru ignored him, keeping up the line of questioning. “Someone stumbled across you at some point though.”

“An Isetacian.” I recalled the alien had tried my hibernation bracelet on, but I’d found it impossible to meld with his bony frame. He had not been a worthy host. “He was a scavenger who sold what he found for money and other things to trade. That is how Other One and I came to end up in the possession of the vendor on Darotkin.”

I realized about then that my consciousness had been merging with the It. I spoke with the invader’s voice and experienced its past as if it was my own.

That wasn’t what pulled me free of the It’s influence however. It was a major realization. The Tragooms that the It and Other One had inhabited had found escape from the invasive organisms only through death.

Once I had that information, I’d gotten enough semblance of sense to take a good look at how much influence the It wielded over me. I discovered my worst fears come true: the It was getting further into my brain, gaining command of even involuntary functions.

The It knew that the pregnancy hormones were what kept it from gaining control over my entire body. The presence of the baby was indeed my one defense ... a defense the It was close to being able to destroy. In a matter of days ... perhaps even hours ... the It could cut off blood supply to the fetus. It could reprogram cells meant to destroy infections and turn them on my little girl. It would kill her as soon as it had the means to do so.

We had run out of time.

I screamed, terrified desperation negating the effects of Oses’ bite. “Take the baby, Tep! Take her now while you still can! It’s almost there!”

Then the It charged forward, eclipsing me, erasing me. I fell into a black pit of senselessness.