Scene 1: The
First we load into the
buzz-landers. They're small tubes, so there's not much room for you and the
gun. But the suit is a big part of it. That adds a lot of bulk. We can still
move, sure, but it's not the same.
So, you're stuck in a tube. It's dark, but that's not a problem. It's only annoying when something itches. One time, my foot....
Then, you feel it turn upside down. We always launch head-first because that's how we come out of the landers. What a noise! It's dead-quiet for a few seconds while the bay opens, but you know that once that little red light comes on, it's just you and your armor and the tube. You better hope your line holds or you're not getting back. No room for two in a tube.
Whoomp! You're out! Your head weighs so much you're going to black out and you know why the tube is so tight tight and your armor is suddenly tight tight like your legs are going to fall off and it smells different because the mix just changed, just enough to keep you going.
Wham! The shock just goes through you and your head buzzes and you know you've just landed. The spikes are gripping fast and the cutter is running circles around your head like a chain-saw halo and then there's a sky over you and the tube isn't tight anymore.
A new shock hits you from below and the mix smells a little different again because you just got a big dose so you can take it. Everything is happening in slow motion and that's good because you aren't in the tube anymore but shooting at the ceiling and you better spread those legs post-haste or you're just going to fall back into the tube and then you won't be any good to anyone.
It's usually dark when you land. But it was dark in the tube, so you had time to adjust and you cock your hip just so like flicking your hair and better bring that gun around and get ready to fire because they're going to be on you in no time, even if time is moving at half-speed.
You don't even have to aim, really. They're big and you're just there to put holes in them. You don't even have to kill one—just immobilize it. I like three in the legs and a couple in the arms. That leaks them quick and then it's just a slipping hazard.
This is when we're really together. You have to be together on this. That's why we do the chants, to show how together we are.
Fingers work as one
Fingers and a thumb
Hand holds the gun
Eyes see when it's done.
Now, maybe someone decides they want to get fancy. Maybe it's you. So you cock your hip just so like flicking your hair and the gun's behind you again and now you flick your wrists and there's two little handles in each hand. You feel the impact and instinct makes you grip it like dear life and now the fun really gets going. Because once someone gets the fancy bug, it spreads fast and no one's shooting anymore but we're all dancing and putting big ugly gashes in things.
And this is my favorite part, really, because there's no recoil on the gun and so you never get to really feel the kill. But when you're dancing and spinning and kicking and slashing, there's just that little bit of resistance that lets you know you just hit a target and it's time to put a little more effort behind it and keep on going until there's no tomorrow.
That always pisses them off. They get so crazy-mad when you stop using long-range and get up on them because they figure they have a chance. I almost feel sorry for them. We've got armor and long knives and all they have is an arm that could take your head off if you hadn't poked a hole in it and spilled out all their strength on the floor.
Well, and they have poison. One of the hands is poisonous. I think the Vencume used it as a natural defense and they used it on you when they put your hand back on, but now it's a mean, black paste and it's good we've got armor, even if we can take a strong dose of it. That's part of our design. The Vencume did that, not those three freaks.
Once you've sliced-and-diced everything with more than two arms, it's time to get those over to where you came in and sometimes there's a little life left in them. You just want to put it down next to your exit so that when you leave, it comes with you.
But first, you need to see what's left of anything with only two arms. If it's nothing, and it usually is, then time to hop-a-plop back into the tube and don't hit your head on the way down. Because, you know, nothing left, so it's okay to leave a few holes in things.
You just hitting the floor isn't enough, though. You really have to jump on it to get the tube to close. Then it's radio for a reel-in and, home-again-home-again, get out of the armor, check for leaks, and count your ammo.
And you're hungry after. Always, hungry after. And there's things to do and Cerberus wants a report on how it all went down.
And seeing you, if we have to. Just in case we missed something.
Becca had gone to observe the
redheads practice in their gym. There had been
several injuries over the last month and she wanted to know why. On her way to
the outermost ring, she felt the increasing centrifugal force bearing down on
her shoulders and knees.
And they practice under this
pressure! How long have
they been doing it? No wonder they look like Peggers...
Walking down the corridor to the
gymnasium had winded Becca. It was like
trudging up a mountain under a four-day knapsack. Whatever acrobatics the girls
where doing were mere background to Becca's desire to find a seat and catch her
aNdrea and aLtsoba were boxing, dancing back and forth and taking direct punches at each other, occasionally connecting with a jaw or stomach. They wore no gloves and stopped, after particularity powerful blows, to apply spray to whatever had been injured.
aNnora and aRlene were also going through some martial moves, but these involved high kicks and sweeps; it looked like dancing...until one landed a blow and the other came crashing down. Whoever had been dropped had to roll away from a quick succession of stomps from her attacking sister.
To one side, aLima was doing rounds on a pommel-horse, her body spindling gracefully around her hands that worked up and down with machine-like precision. Hand forward, hand backward, one after the other, on a pommel, and off. Her ankles were locked with each flair before she broke suddenly into wild scissors, over her head, from one side to the other. The routine ended with a spinning handstand and flawless dismount. The child hadn't even broken a sweat.
Becca felt envy boil in her stomach when aLima jumped with ease for another round.
Do they ever get tired? Even back home, men only run a routine for two minutes at most. Here she is, running three minutes at a time and then going back for more. What did the Vencume do to their muscles? How can they stand this gravity?
You find it tiring. Do you want
to sit down? I have this balance ball. It might be more comfortable than the
(internal) I'm about to show
uncoordinated a human can be. (external) I'm fine on the floor. It won't roll
Suit yourself...It can't really
roll from you once you're on it.
But, you have to have decent balance first, of course.
What are the Vencume doing?
The ones on the bridge
cleared out and ran off to the Library. I say, let 'em. Fewer to keep tabs on.
SOUND: A roar
A roar at the back of the room
caught Becca's attention. It was aCadia slashing
at a cloth dummy with blades she had attached to her forearms. The girl pulled
her arms up, crossing before her face, and the blades retraced. Another
howl and double-slashing motion, and the shining metal edges unfurled, adding
extra force to the cutting motion.
They don't seem upset that
you've taken over.
Why would they? We haven't shown
them any aggression.
But aren't you going to upset
'schedule' by not doing what they want?
We're two days from Peg-51. Evie
figured something out and
so it takes us less time to get from point A to point B. I think it's a better
snapback or something. Whatever it is, we can get somewhere in a few days
rather than months. Cerberus was pretty pleased with that.
You don't like the three designers, do you?
We had to convince them that
taking out the Tzikzik threat was more
important than any Vencume schedule. We can do it; we have time. I mean, if
we're supposed to fight them, then we should fight them. It bugs me that those
monsters are out there. We're Human, right? We have to take care of Humans. If
we ignore it, then we aren't better than them. No...we have to handle that
before we do anything else. We might have been bred for
war, but we don't desire it.
SOUND: Acadia yells
So because you don't desire a
war, you're going to go and have
Problems are watered by absence.
We don't like to run away.
We like to face things head on.
Tell me how you recover a
Mirabilis was concentrating its time in the Vencume garden while Renatus and two other Vencume had moved to another section of the ship that Becca understood to be a nursery for the Human-form Tzikzik. An additional six pilots had come out of advancement and another seven redheads were about to enter.
Meals during the last month had
continued as normal. The only absence was two
redheads who took over the bridge while the designers were eating.
girls were chatting about the main bridge and the video-screen they
We used a Vencume skin for it.
It can do
the color-shifts easily enough.
That's horrible! You had to
Why would we skin anyone if we
can just grow it?
Oh. I guess considering how
disposable or..uh..how available parts
This new system uses a model of
a Human eye lens, but using a cuttlefish
model for the retina that lacks a blind-spot. And that feeds into the Library
which is then
displayed on the Vencume skin. The skin works as well as any LCD, as
long as it's kept wet.
We have to paint it with a
It was iSkandar's idea.
Becca imagined that iSkandar was a part of the overthrow, no matter how bloodless it may have been. "He" was always there, assisting.
This lithe creature reminded
Becca of a surgeon she had worked with during her residency. Dr. Kemel had been
self-deprecating man with a mop of prematurely gray hair and a wan smile.
Through political maneuvering, he had eventually become the department head,
bypassing the usual procedure. Once he achieved this position, Becca never saw
him again; the department only interacted with those he had delegated to handle
We'll finally get to prove ourselves.
But didn't the redheads have to convince you to--
We'll need a list
of attack locations. Once we have that, we'll just work our way
down the line. Sadly, we can only get the Human locations from the Shipping
Authority, so no idea what the other civilized races are doing.
As we recover ships, we'll
deliver them to the various stations. Our step-siblings have been busy, but
it's doubtful they know about us.
And as we start to work the
edges, we'll also be in-line to intercept any,
ah..."secure" bursts. So, we can monitor if there are any more attacks, as well
how public opinion is going.
I also want copies from the
data-banks of any ships we recover, so we can
monitor how the attacks took place and how they changed over time.
If we want them back in one
piece, we can't use the collapser.
Pity. That would make this much easier.
(Don't forget, Vencume
As they got closer to Peg-51,
new concerns were raised. A small meeting was
held in the mess-hall.
iLyssa, iDana, and iMala sat on one side of the table with iSkandar standing behind them. Becca, Evie, and Gordon sat opposite them with Buer behind them.
Buer was heavily involved
in getting the ship adjusted. This
slightly-squatter Vencume--or maybe Becca was just superimposing her great-aunt
on it--seemed intently interested in assisting the girls. Becca imagined her
great-aunt Lytle directing the girls' movements, or chuckling behind a hand
after answering some seemingly obvious question. Buer was happy to explain the
higher functions of the ship and the cloning factory. Becca also remembered
that Mirabilis had called Buer "Assistant", so it might have been in its nature
to help whoever was in charge.
iDana was pointing to a map she'd made that was laying on the table. She frowned and tapped a star marked Peg-51.
(chittering) We can't
just fly past the station. They're on
the lookout for this ship.
They're on the lookout for a
Vencume ship. Do Humans know the
difference between one ship and another?
(chittering) So, we tell them,
I mean, someone tells them that
the situation has been handled and there will be no more attacks of any kind.
That's how you deal with a
grass-fire. Run through to the other side where there's nothing left to burn.
(chittering) The Shipping
Authority isn't going to let you go that easily. They probably want
(chittering) So give it to them.
(chittering) She's too useful to
us. We're not going to do
something like that.
(chittering) No, I wouldn't
expect you to. But, I do know that
we're having this conversation with a woman who lost her right hand, and
another that lost a lot more than that, and they look fine to me.
Didn't I tell
you I was the woman to get you a new head?
(chittering) Oh, a hand or an
arm is one
thing. A head has a brain
(chittering) It doesn't have to
be a working brain.
(chittering) iDana figured out
how to replicate fingerprints. I bet she can
do retinals as well.
They will chase them until they
Or until they think they have them. Third Human is
Hey, I even got a name-change
out of the deal!
(chittering) Doctor-Doctor is
familiar with the process. You
will grow the decoy parts.
(chittering) An entire head is
(chittering) iSkandar will
We should have done this in the
first place. We could have avoided that fight with the ZhengYang.
You had no way of preparing for
(chittering) We're growing goofy
Gordon a set, too. So,
we'll need his chip. We still have the tank from last time.
Aren't you just dropping me off?
You're a risk. You stay here
where we can watch you.
Anyway, we have other things to
learn. We need someone
Scene 4: the
iSkandar took Becca to the
"factory", where clones and parts were grown. Becca
found it hard to focus on anything there because of the still-unexplained
"shimmer" effect. If she concentrated, she could ignore it.
There was a tank filled with a thick, milky liquid. iSkandar made an adjustment to the machine next to it.
We have the map, so we can extrapolate the information for what we want.
(chittering) What is this?
Calcium solution. We have to
make the...frame-work? The
skeleton. We do not grow the whole
being here. Those are other tanks. We will
still have to leave these in advancement to let some parts grow naturally.
The device started to trace a
pattern on the x, y, and z axises. The creamy
solution hardened in places and half-formed a skull.
(chittering) Are we making all
of this in the same tank?
(chittering) The bones are all
going to have the same genetic signature.
No one will check them.
(chittering) How can you be so
By the time anyone gets to that
point, the problem
should have resolved itself. We are counting on Human shock and disgust. You
are curious creatures, but there are some questions even you do not ask.
(chittering) You're also
counting on us not knowing how advanced your stem-tech is.
There is that.
(chittering) Is this where you
arms and legs?
(almost laughing) You are
careful to not mention your own hand.
(chittering) What about her bone
marrow? We use that to protect ourselves
In that case, it was grown
separately and injected before we added anything
else. We know about marrow; you taught us. You have some in
your hand. Another section of the ship is already in advancement and we cannot
complicate the field more than we have. These will have no marrow; they will be
slightly lighter. (pause) How much does a Human head weigh?
(chittering) I've never weighed
one. I think it's five kilos.
Humans identify with heads and
hands. All your
information takes those images and nothing else. You do not account the entire
Faces and hands are unique.
Scars prove a lifetime of
activity. A person who frowns or laughs forms lines that show how they frowned
of laughed during their life. Fingerprints map the random nature of our birth.
You must find it hard to relate
Becca looked at the shimmering
creature beside her and saw that gray-haired
surgeon from so long ago. His eyebrows were raised over pained eyes and a
half-smile hid some uncomfortable truth.
We find ways.
After the skulls were finished,
they worked on rolling out meters of blood
vessels and nerves. Becca was threading the vessels through the muscles they
had made while iSkandar worked on the more delicate task of laying out a
nervous structure. Another machine formed cartilage ears and noses.
Becca was jealous of iSkandar's multiple hands and ability to multi-task.
hands always turn yellow before they move quickly, but they turn blue when he
slows down for precision work. I wonder if there are two nervous systems and
the color shows which is active.
Even at that, the task took
several days and they did not leave the factory
while it was done. Becca was distracted at one point when she thought she could
see the stars through the walls and floor of the room.
(internal) This must be part of
that shimmering effect. Or I'm tired. This is tiring work.
She took four-hour
naps every ten hours and ate zero-gee rations.
iSkandar had only stopped working twice, to rest in a tank of a cloudy solution. Becca felt herself nodding off as the creature floated in his tank for an hour.
(internal) Is he sleeping?
Eating? We must be right on top of Peg-51 by
now. This is taking forever.
The heads were almost complete.
iSkandar did most of the work there and left
the hands to Becca. It might have been his way of letting her work on something
that was less disturbing; as the hands became less like bits and more like
human parts, Becca found working on them more difficult.
She had been working on the heads as well, but had to stop.
(chittering) It's looking at
It has no eyes.
iSkandar injected the raw
material for the "brain" through the base of the
skull and sprayed the hands and heads with a solution.
We will leave this in advancement and come back.
Scene 5: hallway
Becca took the opportunity to
clean up and change clothes. She ran into Evie on
You look like hell. How'd you
get so messy?
We've been at it for days.
You've been in there a
half-hour. Days? Maybe it just feels
Becca went to iSkandar without
showering. He was standing next to Buer, both
creatures a dull gray with pale, interlaced hands. As Becca approached them,
neither seemed to register her presence.
(internal) They're talking about
communicating. They're leaving everyone out of that conversation.
Closer to them now, Becca saw
they were holding three hands, each covered in
that fine, white down.
Becca thwacked iSkandar on the side. He shook himself into a pale blue as Buer shuddered red.
You went to clean. Why have you
not done so?
(chittering, livid)We were in
advancement. No one said we were
going to be in advancement. I'm getting older doing this. You never told me how
long this was going to take.
The factory is in advancement
now. This step can be left
(chittering) How many days have
I been in there?
Three-hundred percent. We will
be at Peg-51 tomorrow. You
will be in the factory another six days.
Doctor can spare two weeks,
(chittering) If I had known! If
someone had explained it!
We are explaining it now.
I will finish the process.
Doctor did not
understand and will not be able to perform any duties while in this state of
(chittering) Fine! Six more
days! I can do
that. I just wish someone had told me how long this would take. What if it had
taken years? I'd be coming out of there an old woman.
Becca, Rebecca...I'm sorry.
(chittering) Don't do that.
Don't use my name
Does it upset you to Humanize us?
(chittering) Yes. You're not
Human. I can't look you in the eye. I don't see you frown or
nod or smile. You've crossed a line with me.
You gave us Human names.
(chittering) I didn't do that.
iMala did that. I just went along
with it because...It made things easier. You're not Human and you never will
Gentle Blue: iMala, Cautious
Blue: iDana, Noisy Blue: iLyssa . Doctor: Becca, Engineer: Evie, Third Human:
Gordon. You are unique.
You name each other accordingly. Does my naming your uniqueness upset you?
(chittering) You're alien.
We don't want to upset you. This
is an unusual circumstance
for you. No Human has experienced these things. I think...I am of the
opinion...You are not faint-hearted. We over-estimated the curious nature of
Humans. Our experience with you is limited. You will teach us?
(chittering) You thought we were
We have...Vencumized you as you
have Humanized us.
We must return and finish the
process. That is...if
Doctor will come.
(chittering) Yes. Let me go
clean up. I'll
be right there.
Scene 6: The
The skin had spread across the
human skulls and hands. Unseeing faces gaped
through a miasma of pinkish liquid. iSkandar pulled out a tray of eyes and
started to attach them.
Meanwhile, Becca checked the fingerprints on the hands to make sure everything matched there. It looked like iDana's process worked and she set about scarring the decoy Evie hands. She had a reformulated spray that would heal, but would keloid.
(internal) I can give them two
weeks of my life. It's not that much and it's not
the kind of thing I'll be doing on a regular schedule. What can you do in two
weeks anyway? I mean, besides make a head and a pair of hands. I'm glad he's
handling that part. Why would I ever make a head back home? Maybe eyes? I bet I
can grow a new ear. I know how this works. This is an internship all over again.
The hair had been the toughest
part. Evie's hair was naturally a warm black,
but the Shipping Authority would be looking for white hair. They couldn't tweak
the genetics to make it grow out white and had to resort to the trauma of
electric shocks to force the follicles to give up the pigment. With each zap,
the face on the head would contort, life-like. Becca only watched it the first
time. After that, she had to look away and gnaw on the knuckle of her left
thumb to keep from screaming.
When the finished products were
brought to the designer's lab, Evie was waiting
with Ulan and Uma.
The twins tapped the glass and frowned.
I have a weird shaped head.
What's so weird about it?
It was worse before.
I don't know how you can stand
to stare at that thing. It's
to look at yourself like that. But you have to. It's not like a mirror. You see
differently when it's not reversed.
(laughing) Every time I turn
around on this ship, I see myself.
iMala was setting up the
pressurized tank. One of the cuffs had been sealed
off. iDana plucked out Gordon's right decoy hand and plopped it in the tank.
iLyssa shoved her hand in one of the cuffs and tested the gun-like device that
would move the chip. Gordon obliged and placed his right hand in the other cuff.
Moving Gordon's chip was a quick process, the girls having done it once before. iMala was also pleased to use her pain-killing device on a larger and unknown subject.
Once it was done, Evie started to roll up a sleeve.
I suppose I'm next.
We're not moving your chip.
We have to replace your eyes and
hands. We're going to
give them what you have and give you something that matches how you were
thought you were just...
iSkandar gestured to a chair and uncovered a tray with a set of surgical tools.
(chittering) You knew. You
didn't tell me that.
Why else would you scar the
I don't know if I can do this.
(chittering) Why doesn't anyone
ever tell me
That was our assumption again.
You ask many questions, but
did not ask about that.
(wriggling) What does it matter?
Think about later. Once all this
is over and done with...we
have to make you match how it was.
can't. I...I wish I could. No, I can't.
It's only for
a couple of minutes. It won't be any time at all.
don't....You don't know what
you out. We'll wake you up when we're
re-attaching them so we can map the nerves.
no....I want to. Really, I want to. I....It's too
much like...I don't care. I'll be a refugee my whole life.
This is stupid.
Do me. Take out one of my eyes and replace it.
turned to look at the twin. iSkandar rotated with tools clattering.
I'll do it.
I'll do it to prove the process. I can be
half-blind for a couple minutes, if it puts her mind at ease.
iMala made an
adjustment to her pain-killing device and pointed it at Uma.
iSkandar moved towards the girl with scalpel raised.
No! I'll do it. Don't do that to her. I'll sit still. I'm sorry. Please...I'll do it. I'll sit still for it. Don't blind her.
another adjustment to her pain-killing device.
iSkandar moved with the utmost, blue-handed precision, removing Evie's eyes and leaving as much nerve-stalk as possible. Evie gripped the chair with white knuckles and clenched jaw. She had flinched a few times and iSkandar had to hold her head still.
The old eyes went into the tank with the head.
eyes went in a second later. They were a teary dark brown that
quickly turned red as Evie sniffled.
How are you
It's a little
off. I have to get used to
them. The focus is OK. My head feels strange and full.
Let me know if
you get hungry or nauseated. I've seen that
took more time. The new ones, scars and prints intact, were
seamlessly placed as the old, flawless hands fell away like so much dead skin.
iDana placed them in the tank with the strange, lifeless head.
I feel like a
child's toy. A spoiled,
angry child that knows its mother will just buy it new one.
The Shipping Authority wasn't
taking any chances. Peg-51 had been turned into a
Well, it was as much of a military outpost as could be gathered in a month's time. The cruiser that led the battle group, the XingLong, was waiting by the station with a destroyer, the JianYang. It was assumed that the two frigates of the group were running a picket along the border.
The four original pilots had already been sent to their ships, awaiting a launch command that the three designers felt would be inevitable. The redheads were in full armor and hopping from foot to foot: full of adrenaline with clips were full of five-centimeter bolts that they were anxious to fire into any intruder.
Mirabilis had been brought out of retirement from the garden and manned the comm between the ship and the station.
It may have been
Mirabilis' time in the garden, but this Vencume reminded Becca of Old Man
Sazji. None of the children in town knew--or cared--who he was or what he
might have done before, but they all knew him as the old goat with the fruit
trees in his yard. Every year, in late summer, the children would raid the
trees, clambering over the wall like so many monkeys. It was a yearly ritual:
climbing the wall, plucking as many fruit as one could, and scampering away
before Old Man Sazji--dressed in a towel and face still white with shaving
foam--would come out and wave his ancient straight-razor at them. His garden
was always littered with rotten fruit that he could not be bothered--or was too
old--to pick up.
And, going further, Becca remembered going to Mr. Sazji's funeral as an adult. It turned out he'd been a diplomat during one of the flare-ups in the south. They had read about it in school, but the name had never clicked. Old Man Sazji was just a crazy relic that shouted at children and Becca's personal truth could never be wiped away by anything that history said.
Becca, Gordon, and Evie circled in the
background, listening. Gordon had one of the Vencume translators with him, the
volume turned down low. Mirabilis made an adjustment to the comm, like an old
trying to tune
in his favorite evening drama. The Vencume hesitated before chittering.
Please, Peg-51, forgive our
sudden appearance. We are trying to fix a mistake
we have made. We must apologize for any misunderstandings that may have
occurred. The Tzikzik threat will be neutralized soon and we only ask for Human
patience and cooperation in this venture.
Peg-51 does not see arrival.
Vencume mistake. Vencume misery. Poor timing.
Tzikzik soon unthreatened. Human follow.
That's going to start a war.
(radio) Poor timing or not, we
allow these attacks to
continue. We need to know that this is not a Vencume activity. What guarantee
do we have?
Bad occasion. Attack unplanned.
Vencume action. Human submittal.
(chittering) Mirabilis, ignore
the translator and let us do it. This
stupid little machine can't handle it.
(chittering) They want to
know that this isn't a Vencume thing and they want a guarantee.
We offer the Humans that
offended you, but only what we could recover. We will send the parts to show
have settled the issue with the ship that attacked you.
Human trophy to deliver.
Technology further mechanics in time.
(chittering) Mirabilis! Speak
They're going to get confused!
We will handle the remaining
Tzikzik and there will be no more attacks. We have the means to settle the
situation and are
taking such measures.
Vencume assist Tzikzik
situation. Attack not. Vencume wager ship for
They're going to flip out and
starting firing any minute.
(radio) We do not wish to wager
anything. We only
want the prisoners returned to us so we can question them further.
No wager. Human trapped question
I need to work on the
translators. This isn't going to get us
No wager! We offer the Humans.
We give what was recovered. Tzikzik
issue resolved. We will settle it.
Wagerless. Humans returned.
Tzikzik handled. Vencume absolve.
That sounds a little better.
(radio) So you will return the
prisoners and we will handle the
remaining Tzikzik attacks?
Human returned trapped. Tzikzik
attack Human solve.
(chittering) Just say
'yes'! Say you're returning the parts you found!
Human remains returned. We
return parts we found. We
Humans returned. Parts found.
Vencume Tzikzik ended.
Parts found should be enough.
An un-named Vencume was sent to
the station with the decoy parts. It felt like
forever until the Shipping Authority responded.
(radio) We see that you have
recovered...three people. We only asked for two, but you might have been a
in bringing these back to us.
Three Human returned. Human ask two Human. Vencume misplaced
We apologize for any
misunderstanding. We did not know what
Vencume misery. Misunderstanding. Lack of knowledge.
(whispering) They're trying to
figure out what to do. Another effect of the heads, besides getting them off
our backs, is to shock
them a little. Humans still don't know much about the Vencume or how they deal
with things. Presenting them with...scalps...will make them think we're capable
(radio) We will give you attack
us if there is need for assistance and we will help.
Much fight place given. Human
give hand to fight.
We should be able to deal with
issue, but we will let you know if more help is needed. Again, we apologize for
this. We know it will not bring back the dead. We will bring back your ships.
There will be no more dead. We are sorry this has happened.
Problem Vencume solve. Vencume
misery. Human missing Human Vencume not find. No more reducement. Vencume
Now that this business was
settled, the massive Vencume ship left Peg-51 and
started the trek to Big Bear-47.
I bet they don't think we can do
it. Or they want to send us on a
wild goose chase.
They wanted to lie to us and
make us go away, but they
also think that we know more than we're letting on, which is true. That this is
such an out-of-the-way outpost puts their backs against the wall. They gave us
some information so we'd leave, but they're going to watch us very carefully.
Don't be surprised if we run into them again.
Becca and Evie's Quarters
Buer came to Evie and Becca's quarters and asked them if they could move in with the twins. aLima and aNdrea had come to help with the move.
Additional Red are coming out of
advancement, but there is not
room on the red arm. If you could move to the black arm, we can put them here
There's going to be another
seven of us, and we only have the ten beds. The pilots were
able to double up when they made those additional six, but we don't have that
kind of space.
What's the 'black arm'?
It's the five arms of the
section: white, blue, yellow, red, and black.
Just like on a Vencume. We're
already in red, and the pilots have yellow, but we
need more room.
There's only two of you in
white, but there's three people in
black, so we should just move you there.
(chuckles) It's also easier to
ask us to move than the
The Twins' Quarters
When Becca and Evie arrived,
Ulan and Uma were overjoyed that they were going
to share their quarters with others. They already used one of the rooms for
themselves and had left Gordon in his own, with its spare bed.
The twins had placed drawings of the occupants on the doors. Evie was drawn in orange and brown. Becca's drawing was in shades of green and Gordon's in purple. The twins had even cleared the last room--next to the one for Evie--overturning the beds and stacking them on top of each other to form a crude workbench. There was a drawing of the mechanical mantis on that door.
My equipment is being moved here
Cerberus needs that space. They
said they were working on something.
And it's not your equipment, anyway. Some of the things
you were using have been moved down, but we're only lending it to you.
I'm being kicked out of the lab?
there going to be more designers as well? Is that it? They've getting more
hands and they think they don't need me?
No more Blue Tzikzik. Three is
The twins giggled.
It's unacceptable! I gave them
the plans for a better
snapback on the borrowed-time field. Slowing down the field is pointless unless
the snapback can catch up to the MOUS's reference frame! I did that and I think
a little recognition is in order. This is preposterous. (sigh) They have to see
it differently. I'll be
Have fun storming the bridge.
Becca only had a couple changes
of clothes, so unpacking consisted of laying
the neatly folded bundles on the spare bed in her room.
Need any help?
Oh, I don't know.
Becca picked up a slipper and
pantomimed lifting its
imaginary massive weight.
(laughs, then suddenly serious)
Listen, Becca, I've been right bastard in the past but I know that act isn't
needed anymore. It never did what
I wanted it to do, anyway. If we're going to be
jammed in here together, I just want to get that out now. I'm hoping we can
What act was that?
The bold, dashing pilot, of
know how it is on the pebble-jumpers; all the guys have to be Dick Daring and
wow the ladies and the other pilots just look down on you if you're a decent
human being. It was a month on the Dizhou before
flights went but it was too late to be someone else. I know that
sounds dumb, but I've been there in the thick of it. I thought that I could
drop the act around you, but I'd already done the
damage and nothing makes a lie stand out more than telling the truth. I figured
you'd just hate me for a whole new set of reasons and I didn't want to deal
with it. Call me lazy.
Deserved. I just had a lot of
time in that garden. I...When you spend your whole life trying to impress
there's no one to impress, you come to a new understanding of
yourself. Do you think we can all start over?
I think everyone on this ship
is starting over, one
way or the other. Even the Vencume.
Are you afraid of them or for
That's an odd question.
I feel afraid for them. I've been reading
their history on the comm and parts of it don't make sense. I think they're
very, very lonely and they're trying to fill it with adopting something very
People with low self-esteem will
date anyone. If what iMala
said is true, and the Vencume hate themselves, then we could be looking at the
biggest codependent relationship in the galaxy.
Yeah, but this one has kids
involved. That's going to be an
awful custody battle.
When Evie came back several
hours later, she had a surprised look on her face.
I ran into my mantis on the way
down here, and then I ran into it again, but on another floor. Did you know
that they've made five more of them?
The same design or variants?
Becca was brushing Uma's
Ulan sat to one side and drew the two of them.
Looked the same. I couldn't tell.
Becca continued to brush Uma's hair back and started to separate it into sections for a braid.
Emulation is the greatest form
Well, they must have seen a use
for it. What was the
The first one had a bundle of
laundry. The second one was carrying what I guess was dirt. It
was in a covered container.
But you built the first one to
help out on a ship, so that makes
Becca had finished braiding
Uma's hair. The girls stood up and switched
places, Uma continuing the drawing where Ulan had left off.
You should be happy that they
your design. Coming from that bunch, I'd take it as a compliment.
Good gray design. More gray
Becca, why are you braiding
See? Pretty drawing. Pretty
sister. Pretty me.
There's more to life than being
Pretty is nice.
Pretty doesn't last. Pretty is
only for now.
Enjoy now. Now is now.
Evie and the twins had an shouting-match after that, so Becca
went back to the kitchen. It got her out of the tense situation and cooking
helped clear her head.
There were three redheads there she didn't know. They introduced themselves as aTlanta, aDelaide, and and aSabi--they even had their names written on the collars of their work-suits!--and they asked how they could help in preparing a meal. When Becca told them she had planned on imambayildi, they immediately collected the aubergine, tomato, onion and parsley without her telling them what was in the dish.
You know what's in it?
We've always known. It's served cold.
But your daughter Huri prefers karniyarik, with meat.
(internal)How do they know about my daughter?
We have some information they don't.
We always knew they were there, but...it's odd. It's like
they're behind us.
Not that they're stupid.
Just less friendly.
(internal) They have my information. They have Gordon's. The
others have only Evie's. (external)
You know what a bursa is?
It's a fluid sac that forms a cushion between tendons and
bones." aSabi was dicing the onion, cutting one side, cross cutting the other,
finally chopping off piles of perfectly diced onion. She kept her fingers
curled the entire time, only exposing her knuckles to the blade.
When it's inflamed, it's called bursitis. Why?
I was just curious.
We're not like the others. They're very angry. I think they
get mad because we're not angry the way they are.
Yeah, I got aNnora in an arm-lock during practice and she was
They're very proud. But we came later. They've already seen
combat. We'll see some soon. They might like us then.
Scene 1: Mess-hall
Gordon was sitting at a table with Evie and the three designers. As Becca approached the table, a voice called over the room.
Becca! Becca! Come sit with us!
Someone just got popular.
Becca rolled her eyes and took her plate over to the pilots'
table. The ten
girls shuffled in their seats.
The pilot who had called Becca over introduced herself as oDette. She had slightly thicker lips than the others.
Introductions were made: besides oDette, there were oLivia, oRtense, oCtavia, oLena, and oRenda.
How do you pick your names?
The Library picks them for us, by meaning and organization.
There was a baby-name book on one of Evie's
data-sticks. Once the Library knew it was for unique identifiers, it decided to
use them for us.
oRtense tapped the collar of her jump-suit. "write down our
make it easier while we're getting to know each other.
You first pilots aren't having any trouble, are you?
(whispering) There's more of us than them, so they're sorta
We can also hear you just fine!
They ate in relative silence after that. The new pilots still
smiled at Becca
and each other while the first four glowered at their end of the table.
new batch is friendlier. Batch. I just called them that. Like a batch of
cookies or something. This new breed? This new series? These new girls...
So, tell us about him.
SOUND: others giggle
Who are you talking about?
How many hims are
there on this ship?
Oh...(internal) She means Gordon. (external) He...he always
We don't like him.
Oh, he's OK. He's a lot like us.
You mean, you're a lot like him.
You should come watch us launch.
Becca's not going to care about that. She's a doctor. She doesn't care about ships.
The first four stood and walked out, leaving their plates behind. oDette helped the others collect the dirty dishes into a stack and take them back to the kitchen.
Are you up for
it? You want to watch a launch some time?
Yes. I'd love to.
Our first proper run. We'll be hitting one soon. You'll
Scene 2: Pilot's Bay
The passenger-ship, Qiu
was just ahead of them.
The pilots dragged Becca to the launch bay.
Becca was left in a control room where she peered at five ships, held nose-up by massive, crescent-shaped arms. As each pilot approached her ship, a slice folded out, like a slide on a microscope. The slide had a Human-shaped indentation that each girl lay on, spread-eagle. Once they fit their hands into the gloves and their feet into the boots that waited at four points of each star, the slides folded back into the ships.
The control-room door locked and the crescent arms lifted each ship, rotating it nose-down. The floor of the bay opened up to the passing stars and the ships were held over the gaping void. One-by-one, as each ship let off that first spark of engine-flair, the crescent arm released them into the exterior.
It may have been fifteen minutes later; the first ship suddenly appeared in the bay, firing retros and letting the massive crescent grasp it.
One-by-one, the ships returned. The floor closed underneath them and the door from the control-room to the bay unlocked.
The ships were turned right-side-up and the pilots exited.
How was that?
Was that the whole fight?
Oh, no. We've just knocked out
the sensor array and
engines. The Reds have it from here.
Two of the redheads came to Becca in an ad-hoc sickbay.
aNaba had long gash
along her left side—the amour was striped in the thick, black, poisonous paste.
What did you find?
Oh, they spaced the passengers. Nothing from them. Those
other Tzikzik are messy bastards, that's all.
Booga-booga, and all that. Ew.
(internal) To just be thrown out like that;
I don't think they met a lot of opposition. They must have
killed them first.
Yeah...they probably stung them or just tore them apart.
Passenger ships should have some kind of defense, you know?
This gash on your side...Did you get some of that poison in
here? It's discolored.
It itches. Part of it is numb.
Make sure you don't touch that stuff. Might drop you in a
Your sisters wanted me to see their launch....the pilots?
They were quite excited by
(laughs) They just want to show off that launching system.
neat, but it's so removed from the dirty work.
And you do the dirty work. You and the others.
Our older sisters use too many bolts. It's wasteful. They
just start firing without thinking about where to put them.
Didn't that cause a fight earlier?
They yelled at us for moving too slow! Can you
believe it? We're not afraid, but a little caution would be nice.
Well, this was the first sortie. We'll get it worked out.
Becca was in the garden with
aVariella, one of the new redheads. They were
transplanting pallets of radish, beet, and potato seedlings when oRtense came
Will I ever have children?
That's up to you.
I hear you're intact, so you have the possibility.
Why would you want kids?
Do you think it will be soon?
You in some kind of hurry? We
have too much to do
right now to hassle with that.
Oh, not for a few years yet.
When you're older.
Because I want children.
Becca stood and led the blonde
out of ear-shot of aVariella.
What brought this
You have to promise to not tell
(whispering) I had a dream...You
know dreams? And I was
flying with Gordon. And we flew through the sky, but it was a funny sky—all
blue and no stars. And we didn't have ships. It was just us, flying in the sky.
And I saw....uhm...But we were flying and then we were flying together and I
was warm but the air was cold and we were together. And then I had babies. They
were all blonde and they could fly.
So you want babies?
They were little. And they
needed me and I loved them and
they loved me. They loved me no matter what. And I had to take care of them,
but it was OK because they were mine.
Someday, you might have
children. But they're a lot of work. It's not like when you were little.
There was a
lot of blood, and it hurt, but it was OK. And they
cried a lot.
cry a lot.
But I could
have babies? Someday, when I'm older?
about something) Did you ever play with dolls when
you were little?
We never were
little like that. I see what you mean,
but no. We always played with ships and songs. We never played like that.
I'll bet, if
you wanted to, someday, you could do whatever you
wanted to. You know, I had a baby. A daughter.
It hurts to be
away. You want to see her grow up, but
you still think she's your baby. She'll always be small to you and it hurts
because you think she'll be big when you get back.
back. We're going to make sure. You're going to see
her again and she won't be all grown-up when you see her. We'll make sure.
the blonde skip out of the garden and returned to the bed of
What did she
I'm going to
claim patient-doctor confidence on that one.
They can't keep on task. Silly blondes.
I hear you're
teaching them a few new tricks. iMala said your
sisters were learning more efficient use of the weapons.
Oh, that. They
saw how we didn't have to stop to reload as
often. They're quick learners. (laughs) We never could have just come out
and said it. They're too proud.
But you're all
starting to get along a little better?
Once we taught them how to play chess, it all started to work out.