writhed across the vast gun metal hulk until it looked like the station
was covered in the exposed sinews of a storm.
sluices one to a hundred. Beginning possession in T minus… .”
A.I.’s voice vanished beneath the sound of bolts snapping open as
the newly liquidised cargo began to flow.
in its guts amniotic sacs trembled as the first drops of the immersive
cryo environment pattered off their skins, and amongst the fleet orbiting
humanity’s embattled home the Host opened their wings. Soon the station’s
prisoners would complete their journey.
Regan’s eyes snapped open as
she tried to fill her lungs with air. She
was floating, floating in something so blue she could barely see her limbs.
frowned… already? It seemed like only yesterday that they’d left Earth.
But if she was in a clone tank it would explain the lack of panic: her vessel
would be saturated with blockers.
commander’s fingers travelled over her face searching for the
familiar hard contours of a born survivor, but what she found there was young,
frowned as memories stuttered through her head. Something had
happened… something that had filled the space around earth with an unfriendly
constellation of light the like of which only its fundamentalists had imagined
until then. Casualty lists and news reports blossomed into life behind her eyes.
There’d been the arrival, the start of the battle on Earth, and the influx of
the defeated as they tried to find a way out, hadn’t there?
felt the vessel’s body stiffen. The Seraphim! That was what she
was fleeing from. She thought of the moment when it had become clear what the
angels fed on. It was after that that she realised why Earth hadn’t been atomized.
They were a larder, and the only way out was to run.
training took over and Regan formed her next thought as clearly as she
fist slammed against the hatch.
chime like an elevator had reached the right floor echoed between her
to remain calm commander. You will be released momentarily.”
shivered. Her head was full of crackling like there were too many
neurons in it firing all at once. For a moment she was reminded of a choir
singing on a badly tuned frequency.
the cryo fluid began to darken, fading through purple and into black she
tried to reassure herself it was just part of the rehousing process.
if the station’s A.I. was still monitoring her it didn’t bother to
reply and whatever simulation it had started was even more unfamiliar than the
body she’d been deposited in. A globe was forming in front of her.
the blue planet held none of the familiar feeling of home.
she felt… hunger.
fought for control as a stream of bubbles escaped her mouth. This
wasn’t part of the process. None of the reports had mentioned hallucinations.
Pain, yes, sometimes. But not out of body experiences.
left one possibility, but her contact with the Seraphim’s minds had
been too brief for them to get their teeth really stuck in. She tried to
concentrate on breathing. They were light years away, she was safe. Regan felt
like pinching herself. If it was backlash from her displaced vessels consciousness
it wouldn’t last. She just had to wait until she’d settled in. Already the immersive
cryo-fluid was draining leaving only shreds of amniotic sac behind.
fresh air finally filled her chest she adopted the mask she found so
useful in her job. If she was found to be defective the station was programmed
to eliminate the threat.
long have we been under?”
A.I. rattled off figures and Regan’s eyes widened. The war… who’d
update me on Earth’s status.”
information is unavailable commander. Communications terminated
not long after departure.”
first cycle are awake and recuperating. Some of the worst offenders
tried to escape,” the station’s voice didn’t miss a beat. “I dealt with them.”
nodded pushing a lock of her vessel’s dark red hair off her face.
commander of research station three stared at the pumice-coloured
regolith choking the planet’s empty cities. She couldn’t shake the sensation of
being watched as a storm blew up sucking what looked like a mountain of dust
into its embrace.
the outliers hit the ship’s hull Regan’s eyes narrowed. For a moment she
could have sworn she’d seen a mouth the size of a horizon in its midst.
She turned to the people on the
Regan scanned the refugees in her care. “By now the Earth we
knew and its hierarchy are either dead, or close to it. But you can see the
civilisation that called this world home is gone. We can do as we like with it.”
have a question.”
was the resistance leader: a man who’d been so effectively bled of emotion
it was a wonder he was still moving. He and the rest of the Forgiven had been
lucky enough to survive their encounter with the Seraphim. Although ‘lucky’ was
an unusual word to describe what was stepping to the crowd’s front with the blank
face of a soldier fighting for something he’d already lost.
do you really think we managed to escape?” his prosthetics zeroed
in on Regan then his gaze travelled around the people near him. There was only
one way to get at what the Seraphim wanted and unfortunately eyes never
survived the extraction. “The angels technology is far superior to ours and
they never do anything that doesn’t benefit them. They’re planning something.”
want to leave?”
least you’re still alive,” said Regan.
call this life? I’m telling you: they aren’t done with us yet.”
paused uneasily. The man’s voice sounded like the dry ticking of
the ship’s oxygen scrubbers and that feeling like her mind was too full
getting off point. There are no resources we can spare to send
you on your way. We deal with the situation as it is.”
Forgiven’s counterfeit stare gleamed. If she remembered rightly the
man had been known for murdering collaborating politicians.
there anything more?”
a moment the resistance fighter was silent. Then he bowed.
I follow your orders.”
you will be my eyes and ears. Watch the other survivor’s… closely.”
from the light of day the Omega withdrew a titanium needle from the
planet’s core and dug a little closer to the heat. The storm had done nothing
but displace more of its long dead creators into the upper atmosphere leaving the
visitor’s station barely scratched. A decision was reached deep amongst its ancient
circuits: it was time to wake its auxiliaries up.
do you want from us?” queried the first of the crumbling trinity
to respond. The Son had always been the more difficult of the two.
have interlopers,” replied the Omega. “They are organics.”
we will deal with them the same as before,” said the third of the
planetary governing systems. The apparatus the Omega allowed to control the
upper reaches of its domain might be in worse condition than its counterpart,
but it could still think, could still inflict damage if needed. The
preservation of that capability was why they’d gone dormant in the first place.
we are weakened. We should not be operating,” interjected the Son.
are machines like me.” The Omega was tempted to drive the point
home by shutting down some of the access to the power it transmitted, but it
restrained itself. “You will fulfil your directives.”
we are inefficient,” said the Host’s former leader. “My
reactors provide me with power and my programming performs the rest. But my hardware
has become corroded, and the system is damaged. Remind me, why did we allow our
children to leave? They could have dealt with this.”
had begun to starve. Such behaviour is not optimal,” said the
Omega. “With the organics terminated how long would it have been before they looked
for a different food source?”
Son was silent for a second.
was a high factor of probability, yes. We retain considerable capabilities.”
suppose it might have been like that. Even my subroutines are erratic
now. Maintenance protocols have a seventy-one-point five percent failure rate.
History grows hazy.”
will divide your resources when you terminate. But there will be no more
questions. We have work to do.”
auxiliaries went silent as long unused power nodes began to hum.
You say there are signs of disturbance down here?”
fingered a patch on her suit. There’d never been enough funding
for Earth’s off world research stations. She’d just have to trust a seal
wouldn’t blow and turn her inside out.
are items that do not match the manifest, yes.”
peered through the clouds of freezing gas spilling from the nearest metal
crate. There was something… .
commander fought the urge to draw her gun: a man was kneeling with
his head down and his arms out on either side as if he were praying. As she stepped
closer she could see the frost rimed features of one of the Forgiven through
his open visor.
was in that?” said the commander gesturing at the open container.
It appears to have had a cloaking device.”
looked along the narrow defile. There were dozens of its type supposedly
holding terraforming gear: each with a red square and a single gold star at the
they all like this?”
waved at the row.
I said Warden, their interiors are impervious to my scans.”
a moment she considered looking in another, but there wasn’t much point.
It would have taken a hundred men and women to search everything she could see.
by assuming anything impenetrable hasn’t got what’s listed in it
and send me the Forgiven’s leader. He knows more than he’s telling us.”
a last look at the corpse she headed for the exit.
did you ask for me?”
the commander’s office the Forgiven’s voice sounded even more like
the dry gasp of the ship’s air conditioning than usual.
me about what’s in the hold.”
caught a twitch on his normally impassive face.
you get your men to unload something? What was it?”
don’t know what you’re talking about.”
work together for the benefit of all. That was part of our arrangement,
remember? Sometimes I think I should have left you for those Seraphim bastards.
But you’re here so we should try and make this work.”
prosthetics stared coldly at the woman behind her desk.
kill you eventually. You and your ‘deals.’ We should never have
what were you going to do if they hadn’t shipped you off world? The
Seraphim were winning even with the mass cauterisation programs. We could all
see that by the end.”
if we’d used attitude adjustors.”
a distant part of Regan’s mind something began to keen.
Tell me you haven’t brought those things here?”
frowned as the lament grew worse and tried to quiet her thoughts. There
was nothing sharing her head with her - it was just her imagination.
was supposed to be our second chance. We don’t need them.”
too valuable to leave behind. This world was inhabited once.
Who knows what was left behind?”
see. Where are they?”
could force you to tell me.”
it,” said the Forgiven. Regan glanced at the button that would
summon help. “There’s not much left of me that would care. However, I’d
recommend you don’t. There are plenty of us here to cause you trouble. Not to
mention the adjustors themselves.”
she leaned back and let her eyes travel to a spot above the Forgiven’s
I don’t believe you. But we’ll work round it. I’m initiating a
full search of the ship. Your kind and the remaining refugees are confined to
Forgiven’s leader was at the door when Regan called after him.
realise what will happen if those things get used?”
the first time something approaching a smile appeared on his face.
would it matter to me?”
the flight deck the air was awash with the smell of stale sweat and
recommends take off and re-entry at a later date, commander.”
glanced in the direction of the crewmember who’d spoken. It seemed
like his download wasn’t sitting well with his vessel either. It looked
haunted, as if it hadn’t slept for a week.
in these conditions. The risk’s too great.” She staggered as the
deck bucked. “What was that?”
are under attack,” came the A.I.’s voice. “Estimated time till hull
breach: ten minutes.”
me what’s going on.”
will be difficult. Most of our sensors are inoperative.”
stared at the view. Out there it was growing dark. As she watched
an arc of lighting spat from the ground. Before long it was joined by another,
and then another. Regan took a step back. What was rising from the planet’s
dust looked like thunder walking as the flickering lights stalked across the
appears to be made of an energy source I am unfamiliar with,” said
the ship’s A.I. with its usual note of irritating calm, “and it is getting more
powerful as we speak.”
attention returned to the smoking crater it had been born in.
would have thought that was obvious Warden. There must be an
installation buried underground.”
lights flickered into life along the bulkheads, and on a nearby screen
she could see an airlock had slid open. Inside stood the convict’s leader with
two attitude adjustors flanking him. The inverted pyramids hanging between
their thin metal stalks had a space like a black hole at their centres.
felt sweat start up along her spine.
Forgiven better be right. Those things can’t be switched off.”
leader ducked his head for a moment and his hands looked busy with
something near his eyes. When he looked up again they’d begun to display rows
of flashing numbers.
were counting down.
explosion that rolled over the ship then was strong enough to knock most
of the crew off their feet. In its wake came a rising whine as the adjustors kicked
and their magnetic rotors span into overdrive.
listened to the sound of the blast rolling away as the attacker
fractured and burst beneath the adjustor’s beams.
was an EMP. The last of our unshielded external sensors are down,”
said the crewman who’d spoken before as he clambered to his feet. “The Forgiven’s
leader must have been an agent. They were designed to get close enough to the Seraphim
to knock them out.”
watched the last of the energy dissipate amongst the planet’s dust.
thought as much. He knew about this place.”
tried to ignore the prickle as she felt the fear rising off the
men and women around her in waves.
sprang up in her mouth.
need to get out of here before whatever started that attack recovers,”
she said quickly. She could feel time running out, although if the realisation
came from her or the thing she could feel squatting at the back of her head she
thruster is gone, commander,” said a female scientist nearby. “Our
lift capacity’s down sixty percent. Even if we had fuel it wouldn’t move us,
not even close.”
another possibility,” said Regan and paused. The thought had wedged
in her mind like a fist wrapping round her cerebral column..
offer you to it.”
the craters depths lighting was beginning to struggle into life once
more. Before long it would close on the station’s hull, narrowing, moving in,
like the net from a trawler. Just like it had with her siblings, and she knew
what came next. Regan’s face froze as the thing in her head finally took over
all the way. Then she smiled, and to the onlookers it was like looking at metal
all, we know what it’s like to make sacrifices.”
pardon commander? I don’t understand,” said the crewman who’d
should relax it will all be over shortly.”
assembled men and women looked at each other.
said Regan’s nerveless mouth as they began to drop one by
one and the angel riding her plunged its hands deep into the nearest’s mind. “We
thought more of you would panic.”
was feeding time and there so much to choose from.
was over too soon,” said the column of black flame in the
destroyer’s amplifier as it finished its meal.
The last tenuous links to the station
retreated. The Metatron had enjoyed playing the heroine, the human cattle’s
last hope, but it was time to attend to more important matters than slaughtering
A crowd of blank empty faces was
staring at it.
of them stepped forward.
a bad result. We were right our father has survived.”
it the whispering of its brothers and sisters died away as they
finished echoing its words.
will only win if we can draw him in and trap him,” said the
Seraphim’s emissary with the voice of a hundred crackling forest fires. “But
that’s not the point. He still knew they were there. We need to drain them of
every last drop if we’re to make them invisible until the time is right.”
it was an interesting trial run Metatron. He performed exactly
Metatron’s flames flickered in agreement as it absorbed the emotions
it had harvested.
you do it again?” said the Seraphim’s current mouthpiece.
you provide me with another consignment, yes.”
have already begun to infiltrate among the humans. More will be easy
Metatron searched the stars. It might have been just its imagination,
but one seemed to glow brighter when it looked at it.
you will damage them beyond repair if we farm too early.”
Metatron allowed its wings to unfurl as it watched Earth spin below,
blue speckled with tiny dots as more of the Seraphim’s dropships got down to
the business of consolidating their hold on it.
soon have them begging to do anything we want,” said the angel
looking at the view.
mean casualties. They will despair.”
the better, despair is as nourishing as any other of their
feelings. But we better give them something to live for. They’ll need it,
particularly now we own the skies.”
Metatron pointed at the sun. The blades cutting across its surface
were clearly visible now they’d been completed.
it up, let’s give them an hour this time. They’ll need hope to
keep them productive.”
started writing because mental
health is a bitch and there didn't seem to be much choice. He brought it from a
squat in Bristol, to a pub car park, to Dark Fire Magazine, CC&D Magazine,
Feed Your Monster Magazine, Blood Moon Rising, Aphelion, The Wyrd, Sirens Call,
The Chamber Magazine, and Black Petals. He also has a story published in the
anthology One Hundred Voices entitled “Closest.”