Warped: Twelve – Inside Out
by Andrea Speed
Twelve – Inside Out
He was floating in blissful silence on a serene sea as warm as blood, the song of the Reds reverberating through him as they serenaded each other, sending their songs throughout the ocean that made up the majority of the planet. Behind the lids of his eyes the colors didn’t so much flash as kaleidoscope, one melding into another, the feelings weaving in and out into one melodious song of color. He could feel the tentacles of the tribe on his body, the tips just skating along the surface of his skin, letting their communication smooth over the rough spots in his mind. Khal felt a warm kind of peace, a pooling in the hollow beneath his collarbone, and he wished he could transform, become cartilage and tentacles, neurotransmitters and skin.
He was luxuriating in the peace and quiet of alien emotions, not so sordid and intrusive as others of his own kind, when a voice said in his head: “What did they do to you?”
He opened his eyes, expecting to see an alien sky over him, black velvet and diamond dust, but instead it was the saffron colored ceiling of a recovery tank, its translucent side letting him see the techs beyond, arguing and thinking he couldn’t hear them. But he could; he could feel the pulse of their emotions, raw and angry, lava pouring down his neural pathways, their words simply imprints in the molten stone. “ – freak, we put them out of their misery,” the female said. She was tall and slender, Asian physiotype, wearing the pale green smock of a gengineer first class. Her name was Lala Sumi, and she didn’t like people. She did like working with cells and clusters, the building blocks and rough materials of people, but not the finished product; the finished product was messy and intrusive, traitorous and disappointing. She resented being here, with a finished project gone so horribly, monstrously wrong, a failure bleeding into her time.
“They want him alive,” the man replied, his voice as sharp as it was cold. He was wearing the grey coat of a MoSys “efficiency officer“, one of those specialized bureaucrats who rode the line between the people who were the government and the ones who kept things functioning. They usually lived in their own stratospheres, unable to cross atmospheric lines into either’s territory. His name was Gren Ercott, shorter and more solid, of Northern European physiotype, and he hated engineers, complainers who didn’t seem to understand the first thing about how you had to bend laws to suit their will, even if it was a law of physics. People were simply commodities, and if they didn’t give out more than they took, they had no reason to exist; they could easily be replaced with a more efficient unit. So he and Lala were quite the team to draw to – if they had scalpels, they would have sliced each other to ribbons, and never even felt bad about it, except for the fact that the blood was bound to stain their suits. “They think he can survive.”
Lala slapped her hand on a diagnostic table, the sound like a small explosion, and Khal would have flinched if he wasn’t so drugged that he felt totally detached from his body. It was a soft prison with flimsy borders, a horizon dissolving into a puddle of nutrient fluid. “What do those fucks in planning fail to understand? If a circuit overloads, it ceases to work.”
“A brain isn’t a circuit.”
“In this case it is very much equivalent. What happened to the others of this genetic line will happen to him; he will melt down brutally, messily, and it’s impossible to say how many people he’ll take with him.”
“As long as they’re the right people, who cares?”
Khal found himself back in the cave of that unnamed moon, the laser carved dome of rock arching over his head. He watched the cyber-techs with their mechanical interfaces glinting in the light chem lights as they attempted to mesh MoSys tech with what was clearly an alien technology. The metal looked almost like black glass, and Khal realized it was almost the same stuff that made up Skr’Takk’s prison; it was Tk’Tk’Skree technology. And suddenly, just like that, he knew what had happened on that moon, why they had found bloody body parts inside the rock walls.
“You’re messing with their transporter technology,” he said to the metal side of the tech’s head. Of course they couldn’t hear him. “Either they booby-trapped it, or it was just so far over your heads you fucked up royal without realizing it. Either way, you’re dead. You were torn into pieces and rematerialized in solid rock.” He wandered down the stone corridor, out onto the flat expanse of the moon where a handful of Cryers stood standing guard around a field projector, surrounding the cave with a force field that would dampen emanations and any explosions, if there were any, and enhance a carrier wave if necessary. Overheard, in very low orbit, a cargo skiff hovered waiting for the test cargo to materialize.
“You broke the deal,” he muttered, aware of what the Tk’Tk’ Skree had sent before they destroyed the MoSys ship. The Cryers stood by emotionlessly, humanoid shaped mounds of crystal, unaware they were about to die.
He looked around, strangely thinking he could feel the electrical field raising the hair on his arms. “The transporter failure will cause a feedback loop in these emitters, and you will all be shattered in the shockwave, too close to ground zero. It probably was deliberate sabotage on the Tk’Tk’Skree part – that’s how they’ll know you broke the deal. MoSys messed with technology of theirs you said you wouldn’t, probably illegally acquired. The skiff is far enough away that it will survive, and as it flees orbit, it will send a distress signal made of Cryer chimes, an unexpected message that will have no meaning to the Tk’Tk’Skree, but will to the MoSys people who designed it. They’ll know that’s the high sign of catastrophic failure. It was a distress call, but not for you poor things, like we thought. It’ll be for your stupid MoSys masters.”
Khal sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes, no longer wanting to see this frozen moment in time before the world changed, before his life started sliding away like so much sand through his fingers. “I can’t know this,” he muttered to himself. “There’s no way I can fucking know this.”
“You’ve always known it, you just don’t want to,” a woman’s voice said. It was the same one that had asked what had they done to him.
He looked up, to find himself sitting on the white sands of the planet Xentropha, the mica sprinkled within the grains glittering like silver, the night sky the velvet cover with gleaming shards of stars like ice he had been anticipating before. Standing several feet away from him was a woman as blue as the morning sky, her clothes as much a part of her as her skin and just as blue, her scalp bald and her ears small whorls, almost like afterthoughts. Her eyes were yellow, and that told him who this was. “Blue?” he asked, rubbing his neck. Something in him ached, but oddly enough, he wasn’t sure what or where. “This doesn’t make sense.”
“Yes it does. You hide behind chemical walls because you’d rather not deal with anything. But you have to at some point, Khal, and that time is now.”
He shook his head, aware that his was a mindscape, where anything could happen and things rarely made a great deal of sense. “I know I’m special to your people, Blue, but among the humanoids I’m just another commodity.”
“You think we think you’re special simply because you’re one of the few savages who can speak our language?” she replied, her voice dripping with disdain. “There was great power in you, locked away. We thought you knew about it, but clearly we were wrong. You didn’t want to know about it.”
He really didn’t know what she was talking about … or did he? Oh, fuck it, he was tired. “Look, whatever, I just want to sleep.” He collapsed back on the powdery sand and looked up at the sky. Xentropha was really a very peaceful planet; he hoped MoSys didn’t ruin it, like they ruined nearly everything else.
“If you sleep, you die.”
He felt a sharp pain in his leg. “Ow!” He sat up to rub his calf, which Blue had somehow kicked, even though she hadn’t moved from where the purple-blue water lapped at her ankles. Still, mindscape – if you knew how they worked, you could do anything. “Do you have to be so fucking bossy?”
“You don’t have to give in to death just like that. Yes, you’re going to die, but you can make it count.”
He glared at her. “Maybe I don’t want to make it count. Maybe I don’t care.”
“Do you know what you did?”
“Before you came here.”
He had to think about it for a moment, but it was a curious thing – he had no memories beyond being in the water. He thought there was something about the ship, but he couldn’t say what, any more than he could pinpoint the dull ache somewhere deep inside his body, as insistent as a toothache. “No. What did I do?”
She gave him a hard look with her pupil-less yellow eyes. “If I knew for sure, I wouldn’t ask. But I believe you projected the pain you absorb outward.”
He just stared at her, pretty sure that entire sentence made no sense at all. “Huh?”
“The Tk’Tk’Skree attacked the ship. I think you gave the pain back, and it overloaded their central nervous systems, causing them to shut down.”
“Okay, first, central nervous systems don’t shut down; if they did, everyone would die. Second, I can’t “project” pain, I can only take it in.”
“Every entrance has an exit,” she replied cryptically. “There has to be a release valve for the pressure, even if it’s psychic pressure. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And everybody did die.”
Something twisted hard in his gut, making his stomach feel like it had just turned to stone. He’d have accused her of making a sick joke, but Blue didn’t joke; he didn’t think she actually had a sense of humor. “What?”
“The Tk’Tk’Skree. You didn’t kill that one on the ship already, Skr’Takk. Why I don’t know; she seems like an odious creature.”
He just sat there, mouth agape, feeling the rest of his insides ice over and turn to stone. So he was a killer now. He wished he was surprised, but no, he wasn’t. He felt that there was always something in him that would be, if he could only get past the fact that he felt everyone else’s pain. Finally he’d found a way around that. “But … that doesn’t make sense. I can’t do that. Also, I’m a lazy dick.”
The look she gave him was equal parts weary and scolding, like she was his mother all of a sudden. “No, Khal, what you are is a coward. It’s always been inside you, you’ve just been afraid to touch it. You took on too much pain, and a switch tripped; it made the decision for you. A self-destruct sequence started in your head, some kind of failsafe I imagine, but it’s been stopped. You’re still dying, Khal, but I think we have one last shot.”
He shook his head, wondering if he could be actively delusional in a mindscape. “Blue … this doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know what you’re telling me.”
She huffed out an exasperated sigh, her grasp of humanity and its odd noises greatly improved since she first thought a burp was some kind of Human compliment. “I’m telling you that you can stop them, possibly you alone. But you have to act as soon as you can. I don’t know much time you have.”
Impending death might explain the constant but otherwise indefinable ache that seemed to radiate from somewhere deep inside him. Now this was proof of just what a lazy dick he was, because he honestly didn’t care that he was dying. It didn’t seem worth raising a fuss about. “How did you stop my “self-destruct”?”
“I didn’t. I told you to.”
That made no sense at all. But since arguing with Blue was like … well, arguing with an alien squid, there really was no point in pursuing this further. “Fine, whatever. Who are we stopping and why? The Tk’Tk’Skree?”
“It’s not the Tk’Tk’Skree we’ve been running from.”
“Oh, okay. A revenge thing.”
“If you wish, but I don’t think of it that way. They damned you; is it not right to damn them back?”
“But what’s the point? I can’t stop them. They won’t stop trying to make people like me. It’s a nice idea – well, in a bloody minded sort of way – but it seems pointless.”
“You deserve better.”
“Says who?” he replied, although he appreciated the sentiment. At least someone in this universe had cared about him. But that wasn’t fair, was it? Kvec probably did too, and maybe Dar, somewhere in her tin can heart, felt some smidgen of duty to him …
And that’s when he realized any revenge done for him would be pointless, but it wouldn’t necessarily be for anyone else. He could buy the others time, let them get as far from MoSys as possible. At best, he could simply delay MoSys creating more people like him, and not for long – they always thought they’d “worked the kinks out” when they really hadn’t done anything but rearranged the same old troublesome genes – but he could put the others off the radar for a while. “Are you coming with me?” he wondered.
She stiffened, as if that had been offensive. “Of course. Where else would I go?”
The look she gave him was slightly bewildering. “I left with you. I go where you go. I also believe I can help.”
Maybe she could. There was a special solace in the alien rhythm of her emotions, in the way they transformed into colors and the way colors transformed into them. It was all a language, and yet so few could speak it. Now it was his chance to speak for those who couldn’t, to turn on the beast tracking them and stalk it instead.
They would never see it coming. And how stupid – they should have. Betrayal was the lingua franca everyone could speak.
Okay, so maybe he was dying, and maybe he had somehow unleashed the monster that MoSys had planted inside him. On a cosmic scale it was so small as to be ultimately meaningless.
But now he had a plan. And this time when he spoke, MoSys would have no choice but to listen.