Warped: Thirteen – Pain

Warped
by Andrea Speed

Thirteen – Pain

In retrospect, Dar realized that the fact that Khal stabilized so quickly should have been her tip off that something suspicious was going on.

After Kvec returned Blue to her tank, he came back for the comatose Khal and carried him back to his room, as no one was sure what else to do with him. The Nyorai simply wasn’t built to take care of injured people, beyond its store of nanites. And poor Kvec got all the shit jobs since he was the strong one that wasn’t squeamish: after taking care of Khal, he was left to drag the bodies of the Tk’Tk’Skree to the airlock so they could be jettisoned out into space. There wasn’t much else they could do with them.

In the meantime, she, Gen, and Skr’Takk were debating over what to do with the Tk’Tk’Skree ship. Dar felt it was best left behind, it could do them no good, but Gen wanted to go over and take a quick look around before they abandoned it, on the off chance there was something “useful” over there (meaning something they could sell on the black market), while Skr’Takk thought she could neutralize the transponder and take the ship for herself. The debate was pointless, mostly because no one intended to concede the sense (if there was any) in each other’s position.

war4.jpgVani stayed in Khal’s room, hovering over him, monitoring his coma, although there was nothing she could do. Vani didn’t like feeling useless, so she was starting to show rare signs of distress. Mainly scale molting, although she also developed an eye twitch.

They had just reached the end of the system when Khal woke up.

To say he looked pale was to say that space was black: a statement of the obvious, and yet inadequate. He was the color of curdled milk, his lips bloodless, his eyes still angry red with broken blood vessels. Vani seemed startled that he was awake already, but before she could say anything, Khal sat up, and said, “I know what happened.”

He proceeded to tell them what had happened on that moon, how MoSys were trying to utilize technology that the Tk’Tk’Skree didn’t want them to have, and how MoSys had found a perfect code in the “songs” of the Cryers; it was a language that didn’t actually sound like a language, and was almost impossible to translate without an actual Cryer there to do it. The deal MoSys broke was simply a case of overreaching their bounds, bounds imposed on them by the Tk’Tk’Skree. It sounded plausible and logical, and jibed with what little evidence they had. But there was one thing wrong with all of it. “How do you know this?” Dar wondered.

He made a noise that could have been a scoff, but was too anemic. He slid his legs off the bed and sat on the edge, looking like a reanimated corpse. “I honestly have no fucking clue. My powers just seemed to go nuclear on me.”

“We did notice that part. How long have you had powers like that?”

“I assume I was made with them, they just aren’t easy to access.” He stood up with the pained carefulness of an elderly man introduced to gravity after a time away from it.

“You sshould ssit,” Vani suggested so politely it was difficult to tell it was an order.

He shook his head, but it was clearly making him dizzy so he stopped. He found a shirt and pulled it on, then grabbed a pair of pants, but rather then risk his precarious balance he sat back down to wrestle them on. “I’m sorry, but there’s something I have to do.”

Dar assumed he was delirious, but his medical readings were incredibly steady. “What is it you think you have to do?”

“I have to let MoSys know that they can’t use us like this. We’re people, not property.” He struggled his pants on, and almost fell off the edge of the bed while doing so. It would have been amusing – in a pathetic sort of way – if he hadn’t been so serious about it all.

“Uh huh. And how do you plan to do this?”

He looked up at one of her sensor nodes, scowling. “You think I’m full of shit.”

“No, it’s just that you’re not well Khal.”

That earned a scoff. “I know. I’m a bomb, I went off. But I think I have another blast in me.”

Vani glanced up at the node, clearly concerned he was rambling like a crazy person. Was there any way to talk to a person in his state that didn’t come off as patronizing? It was a conundrum. “I’m not understanding this. Could you explain this to me?”

He rolled his bloodshot eyes, as if he knew what she was doing. “I’m dying, Dar, I don’t really have the time to sit and chat. Just do me a favor and head towards the far colonies or the mine reaches. I’m going to buy you some time, so use it, stay under the radar. And tell Kvec I’m sorry, okay?”

How wonderfully ominous. “Sorry about what?”

“Abandoning him.”

She wanted to press on, but the strangest thing happened – Khal stared up at her sensor node, and suddenly everything went black.

****

She came to with the ship streaking onward at full speed, the solar wind caressing the hull of the ship, her skin, as it moved like a bullet towards the nearest transit gate.

“Bruno,” she asked, replaying her last recorded memory. “What the hell happened?” The replay wasn’t at all illuminating.

“Technically? Fuck if I know.”

“Bruno.”

“Well, it’s like this – everybody fell asleep, except Khal and Blue, and he told me that I had to get everyone as far from MoSys space as possible as fast as possible, and you’d all wake up as soon as we were outta their range. Can’t say it made a lotta sense t’me, but he said that was just how it was gonna work. Then he had me grapple the Tk’Tk’Skree ship in, and he an’ Blue took off in it.”

She would have asked him to repeat that, but she got it; it just didn’t make that much sense. “Since when does Khal have the power to put us all to sleep?”

“Since when does he have the power to kill a bunch of bugs?”

Fair enough. She quickly accessed all her eyes across the ship, and discovered that Gen and Skr’Takk were still sleeping, but Kvec and Vani were starting to wake up, and looked just as confused as Dar felt.

Vani had fallen asleep on the floor of Khal’s quarters. As she looked around and shoved herself to her feet, she asked, “Are thhings ass bad ass I thhink thhey are?”

“Undoubtedly.”

What the hell did Khal think he was doing?

***

The alerts started coming in at twenty hundred hours median.

The automated sentinels reported a Tk’Tk’Skree warship headed not just into MoSys federated space, but headed straight towards corporate headquarters. All ships that went out to intercept fell oddly silent without firing a shot, although they still existed and hadn’t disappeared inside their own micro singularity. Someone at HQ assumed this was a further power play on the Tk’Tk’Skree’s part, a show of force, and rather than engage dialogue was attempted by the negotiators. All negotiators who attempted to make contact fell almost instantly into a deep sleep without saying a word. When the automated weapons system went live, they were quickly neutralized by the Tk’Tk’Skree weapons, although the micro-singularity weapon was not deployed. It was impossible to say if that was good news or bad.

There was no one MoSys centrality, but the Hub was considered the heart of the corporation, its main headquarters. It was a triumph of MoSys engineering, a space station roughly the size of the old Earth country Japan, but with a rather meager population, made up of CEOs, bureaucrats, higher level functionaries and the support staff that took care of them. It was also home to the main gengineering complex, although by now they had scattered the modifying tanks into the rim worlds and the settled territories. Top of the line MoSys warships guarded the Hub, but before the word to engage them even came down, ship’s crews started dropping into the same near comas that had hit the negotiators. Even with superior Tk’Tk’Skree technology, one ship wasn’t believed to be enough to be considered a declaration of war, so in good faith – and what was believed to be a public relations first strike – the way was ordered clear, with no one to make any further hostile moves on the ship. (It wasn’t doing any good anyways.)

It stopped just outside the Hub’s gravity well, and finally sent a message, but it wasn’t what anyone was expecting. The view screen showed an Adar model negotiator, much too pale for his genome, bleeding from his nose, with some weird bulbous alien perched on his shoulder like a bizarre deep space parrot. It was blue, with huge eyes on swiveling stalks above its head, and it had a tentacle wrapped around his back and neck. There would be long and hard debate over whether it was controlling him. “The secret is now officially out,” he proclaimed, and the message was being broadcast to all within range of the Tk’Tk’Skree transmission. “Negotiators are actually suicide bombers when things go completely to shit. As if it’s not bad enough that we spend our short lives feeling everyone else’s pain. I don’t think MoSys feels enough pain.” His eyes were now bleeding, leaving thick red lines down his cheeks that could have been tear tracks. “Let’s change that, shall we?”

The recordings left behind were not quite sufficient in explaining what exactly happened. After his threat he cut transmission, and everyone on the Hub save for a single group fell into comas.

The single group untouched were the gengineered fresh from the tanks, awaiting training, or awaiting assignment. They reported hearing screaming, but by the time they emerged into the station proper, all was quiet, and everyone seemed to be unconscious.

And no one would wake up.

Epilogue

It was funny how could you could spend such a long time with a person and yet never really know them.

Kvec liked to come and sit in Khal’s room, stare at Blue’s empty tank, and wonder what happened.

It was six months ago when the corporate population of MoSys Hub fell into comas – they were still there as far as he knew, alive but totally unreachable – and Khal apparently died of what was called a “terminal cranial event”, some kind of code for the brain tissue meltdown that killed many a Negotiator. It wasn’t clear what killed Blue, although it was assumed she had simply been out of water too long.

Debate had raged about what Negotiators were, and it continued unresolved. MoSys claimed they were simply negotiation and communication “tools”, not weapons, but what Khal had accomplished proved otherwise, and MoSys were having great difficulty spinning it into something benign. That didn’t keep them from trying.

The situation between MoSys and the Tk’Tk’Skree was precarious. War hadn’t been declared, but mainly because each side wasn’t completely certain about the other side’s weapons. It was an uncomfortable stand off, and any day it could erupt into something nasty and irreversible. But doubts about the abilities of the negotiators were keeping the Tk’Tk’Skree from killing them all … for now. How long that would last was unknown.

Life had gone on for them, and Khal had been right – they had dropped far below MoSys’s radar, namely because they had a billion more worrisome problems than a stolen ship with a rogue crew. Someday they might care again, but the heat was currently off, and they managed to enjoy it for a while.

Running scams were a bit harder without him, but so far they managed. Gen still didn’t get how the “junkie squid fucker” turned into a weapon of galactic destruction, but no one talked too much about Khal anymore; it was just too uncomfortable, and no one knew what to say.

He did miss him, possibly more than most. He – and Kvec always felt weird thinking of himself as a “he”, a soft meat term that just didn’t apply to his people – could talk to Khal like no one else. Oh, he could communicate with the others, send them messages and see responses in return, but it wasn’t the same.

He had some hope, though. Khal was one of a type, and there were other types like Khal out there, just with different names. And different abilities? Perhaps; perhaps not. It was that doubt that was holding an uneasy truce, that was keeping people from engaging in mass extermination of negotiators. They were also going rogue in record numbers, although MoSys officially denied this – but even they were afraid to bring the hammer down on their own creations. They’d created something that scared even them, and they weren’t sure they could contain it.

They were in the far colonies now, and Kvec had some hope they’d run into a rogue negotiator of Khal’s genotype. They wouldn’t be the same, but it would still be nice to have someone he could really “talk” to.

Dar’s voice came to life over the comm. “Gen and Skr’Takk are arguing again. Can you break them up before they maul each other ?”

Kvec nodded and gave a thumb’s up gesture to Dar’s embedded eyes. Skr’Takk was still with them, still planning to assassinate her traitorous sister, but right now it seemed like a pipe dream. Mainly she seemed to be waiting to see if the Tk’Tk’Skree declared war on MoSys; she seemed to believe her sister would be vulnerable if this occurred, but Kvec couldn’t follow the logic. The funny thing was, when Gen and Skr’Takk weren’t arguing, they got on fabulously, and Gen seemed interested in becoming the mercenary leader of Skr’Takk’s army. It was the best of both worlds to Gen apparently – violence and money.

Kvec left Khal’s quarters, and mused over the fact that as unsettled as things were on a universal scale, things had never been better for those on the Nyorai.

He just wondered why it didn’t make him feel any better.

The End

(What a bloody downer… I also have a feeling this ending may be far too abrupt. But this seemed like the ending point.)

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