Warped: Ten – Emotional Rescue
by Andrea Speed
Ten – Emotional Rescue
The pain in his head was so great he wanted to find a drill and put a new hole in his head, preferably in his right temple, and just drain the pain out. Let out the pressure in a wave of blood and brain matter, ease it to a more tolerable level.
Of course Khal wasn’t so gone that he didn’t realize that was insane, but it didn’t make him want to do it any less. It hurt – the pain pulsed like a second heart deep inside his cranium, and he just wanted it to stop. If he carved his own skull open, it would stop. Although, if he stopped focusing on it, it would … well, not stop, but lessen slightly. Maybe.
He’d come to understand, with increased close proximity exposure to Skr’Takk, that the strange static he felt around her was just an alternate brainwave pattern that was so foreign to him it hurt his mind just to be near it. But the more he was near it, the more he adapted, and the more he thought he was starting to understand it.
But it still hurt.
He had surreptitiously sniffed an ampoule of vapor nepenthe before continuing the ship tour, but it lasted maybe two minutes, tops, before the numbing green haze gave way to that throbbing, molten agony again. He tried to ignore it, but it was like picking a scab; he couldn’t stop doing it. He tried to distract himself, but his mind was resolute on solving the puzzle, poking the wound, trying to interpret the signals no matter the pain they caused. It was almost like his unconscious was deliberately trying to hurt him. It wouldn’t surprise him if it was.
But he was starting to get the sense that Skr was annoyed, beyond all the pain. He’d been trying to find out about her people between the ship tour and the pain, but it was all rather difficult. “This ship is made of rock?” she clicked, her synthetic translator still a step behind. “Is it living like that drone?”
He paused, putting a hand on the wall to keep himself steady. The pain was so great he wasn’t sure he could keep upright. “No. Why are you calling him a drone? Do you call all men drones?”
There was a click that could’ve been a scoff, and her antennae wavered enough to kick up a small breeze. “Aren’t you?”
How did he answer that? ”No.”
She glanced around, her big head moving with a strange suppleness on her nearly non-existent neck. In spite of the fact that she looked like some kind of gigantic ant-beetle with legs so slender they were a joke, he got a sense of terrible power from her, like she could cut him in half with barely an effort, start digging through the ship like the engineered crystal was as soft as flesh. That was probably one of the reasons she decided to come on board: they were no threat to her. They were soft meat, without protective exoskeletons.
He sensed a spike in emotions from someone else aboard the ship – he still hurt too much to determine who – and then he heard Dar, through his sub vocal implant, say, “I need you to get Skr’Takk to a place with a monitor as quickly as possible.”
Oh wonderful – something else was going wrong, wasn’t it? Precisely what did they have to do to buy a break? Seriously, he was ready to start giving blow jobs to every suit they encountered if it would help.
He led the way into the nearest empty quarters, and Skr followed, bitching the whole while, “I know you’re not showing me any of the vital areas of the ship. You’re showing me shit. What, are you afraid I’m going to steal it?”
“Bruno, give us a view,” he said, ignoring her.
“Oi, what d’ya think I am, a servant?” he snapped, but the lights came up low and the view screen embedded in the wall came to life, showing the interference torn image of debris littered space around them. There was also a bright spot, quickly accelerating, which showed up against the otherwise static background. He could barely make it out, but it kind of looked like one of those bug ships. “Oh shit.”
Dar’s voice came over the room comm. “Skr’Takk, do you know what this ship is?”
That hard click like a scoff issued from her again. “Yes. It’s a Razor Wing, second class.”
There was a warm and cuddly name. Now Khal’s gut started to hurt.
“Do they have a singularity weapon?”
“What did I tell you meatbags? It’s an experimental weapon, with an even more experimental energy source. I know of only one ship equipped with it, and it’s a prototype Sky Sword.”
“What kind of weapons do Razor Wings have?”
She paused, and he figured she was trying to decide if she should tell them or not. Perhaps it occurred to her that the ship had shown up to kill her, because she finally started talking. “A Razor Wing second class has a type three pulse cannon, two radiation guns, frag mines, a grapple, and a hull splitter.”
“Your people are just fucking rays of sunshine, aren’t they?” Khal snapped, rubbing his temples.
Skr’Takk ignored him, perhaps because he was just a “drone“, and Dar simply said, “That’s quite a large compliment. How fast can they go?”
“Just a point six below light speed.”
Khal tried to do the math, compare it to their top speed, and gave up. But Dar had figured it out already. “Faster than us. I assume hiding is pointless.”
“They’ll think you’re cowards. That’ll make it worse.”
Khal was tempted to ask how, but decided that he’d probably find out soon enough, and why ruin the surprise?
“Well, they’ll have to catch us first.”
“No they don’t,” Skr’Takk clicked. “What defenses does this ship have?”
Khal sensed Dar pausing at the same time he did. “What do you mean ‘no they don’t’?” she asked.
There was that scoff like click, and Skr’s head bobbed as her translator spat out, “How primitive are you apes?”
It became a moot point as the pain seemed to spike in his head – it was like someone had driven a sword through his skull – and he screamed and dropped to his knees, holding on to his skull in case it decided to fracture like an eggshell. He thought he heard Dar asking what was wrong, but she was lost in the pain and the noise of his own agony.
They were all around them; they were everywhere. The Tk’Tk’Skree were on the ship.
Time blotted out in shades of red, bloody crimson that lapped behind his eyes like churning water, but it hit a threshold, or perhaps his brain found a way to shut down the input, because he came back to consciousness on the cold crystal floor, hearing the sounds of a strange and close fight.
“ – mention they have teleportation technology?” Dar was saying to Skr’Takk.
“I thought everyone had it,” Skr’Takk said, and then there was a strange wet noise followed by a thud.
He pushed himself up from the floor and saw the room door was open, and Skr’Takk was fighting a big bug that looked a lot like her in the hallway, over the body of another one, who was slumped on the floor and oozing black blood that smelled sour and acidic. She forced the bug back, and Khal thought maybe he had a chance to escape, or grab a weapon at least, but escape sounded better, as the amount of Tk’Tk’Skree in the ship was making his head buzz like it was full of angry reaper wasps.
But he’d just stumbled to the doorway and leaned against it, trying and failing to avoid the black blood, when the lift opened and Kvec came out, with an armed Gen behind him. A bug lunged and spit acid at Kvec, which bubbled and started eating through him, but he still stepped forward and grabbed the bug by the mandibles, ripping them off with a sickening tearing of muscle and cracking of carapace. It reeled back, stumbling on one of its own dead, and Kvec slammed his fist down on its head. It took two hard blows for him to break through the carapace, and another hit to put it down and splatter its brains across the wall.
The acid was still eating through him, but Cryers didn’t feel pain, or at least not like a non-crystalline humanoid, so he wasn’t hurting. Khal wished he wasn’t, mainly because he felt the bug die; he felt a cold claw rip across his brainpan, leaving a void as tangible as if an organ had been ripped out of him. He sagged against the wall, not sure he could keep upright for much longer. “Stop it!” he shouted, grabbing his head and trying to block the feeling out. It didn’t work. “Stop fighting!”
But if anyone heard him, no one cared. The bugs, thanks to their gravity harnesses, were also climbing on the wall, which he didn’t notice until Gen peeked out from behind Kvec and shouted, “Move!”
Khal didn’t feel like it, wasn’t sure he could, but Gen fired anyways, and it hit something on the other side of the door, close enough that its vinegar scented blood splattered on his face as he felt its dying spasms. Gen had a customized bolt thrower, an old ship building weapon turned primitive but surprisingly effective weapon, one with enough power to send a five inch bolt of hot titanium alloy through the Tk’Tk’Skree’s exoskeleton.
Gen had lots of weapons. The joke was Gen was planning some big robbery that included taking them all out afterwards, but the truth was Gen had already said she was not going back to MoSys alive – it was as simple as that. Gen was simply stockpiling for the day they ran out of luck.
Khal felt weak, rubbery, unable to stand the pain and the death that was hammering him from all sides. He heard a high pitched keening noise that sounded like one of the bugs was in hideous pain, but he realized belatedly that the noise was actually coming from him. “Khal, what’s wrong?” Dar said inside his head. Or so he thought; he could have been imagining it. “Are you hurt?”
Two bugs converged on Kvec, trying to bite through his arms, but they were having a hard time with his crystal structure. He raised one arm and slammed one of the bugs against the wall over and over again, attempting to crack the carapace and make it let go.
“Get off our fucking ship!” Gen yelled, shooting a bug point blank in the head. Another lunged forward and grabbed Gen by her right arm, and with a single snap severed her arm above the elbow. “Motherfucker!” Gen was so angry she didn’t even let it faze her; she pulled a Vrainian cane cutter – a long, wickedly curved bladed weapon that could cut through cerasteel if you were dedicated enough – and hacked at the bug even as her arm hit the deck. Gen cleaved its head in half.
“Khalil, can you hear me?” Dar repeated, with some urgency.
Kvec moved to protect Gen, as the Tk’Tk’Skree were apparently drawn by the blood fountaining from her severed arm, while Skr’Takk, cornered at the other end of the hallway, bit off the head of an attacking bug. Khal felt it all, every blow, every death, and the bile at the back of his throat felt solid, turning to cement in his trachea.
It was all there, a black cloud of pain and rage in his mind, the collective hate of the battlers, and he didn’t want it inside him anymore. He felt like he was hovering on the edge of consciousness, his soul bleeding out like all the corpses at his feet, and he couldn’t bear it anymore.
He screamed, trying to expel all the pain and hate, and it felt like vomiting, but not in a physical sense. He could feel it leave him, cleaning him out, turning him into an empty husk as all the pain left him, and he threw it towards those who deserved it.
“What the fuck..?” he heard Gen exclaim.
“Khal, what are you doing?” Dar asked inside his head, but she sounded like she was shouting from a mile away. “Khal?”
Visual images flickered across his closed eyelids, Kvec trying to communicate with him. He could see the hallway from Kvec’s perspective, a graveyard of Tk’Tk’Skree and black and red blood, and he watched the last of the bugs collapse, rocking on their slender legs as if hit, falling from the walls and slumping to the floor, but he couldn’t see what was doing it. He could see himself though, on his knees in the doorway (when did he drop to his knees?) holding his head and screaming, blood gushing from his nose and streaming over his lips and chin, pooling on the deck beneath him. Kvec held his clenched fist up into his eye line, bug blood still dripping from it, and opened it to show his red crystal palm. It was visual shorthand between them; Kvec was asking ‘How?’
But he didn’t understand the question, and he didn’t understand what Kvec was showing him. He felt something give way in his mind – it was like a muscle tearing in his brain, something physical ripping free – and then there was no pain, only blissful, quiet numbness.
Khal was vaguely aware he was falling, roughly certain he’d hit the floor, but he didn’t care. All was darkness and peace and emptiness, and that was just what he wanted.
There, was that so hard?