Tsiolkovsky looked like shit under the hab dome. Solarlites circling like flies, waiting for the airport without a busted airlock to clear their landing. Whole city’s been smelling subtly of shit for years, ever since they found some way to cheap out on the filters. Probably it’s poison to breathe.
Nearest we could all figure it was a way to make the offers they had to make to get us into suits and off the planet cheaper. When we took the company dollar and made the oath to reclaim the Earth they fed us like they wouldn’t feed rats, but it felt good to be eating without spending money. They got us drunk on cheap rizzo, the kind that everyone says tastes like drain cleaner or turpentine or something. It was the first time some of us had ever been drunk, and the ones who had been before just said, “Don’t worry about the puking, man, it’s the part that comes after it that makes it worth it.”
The officer on duty called us heroes, and we all laughed, and he laughed too. What a crock of shit, and everyone knew it! It felt good to know, you know? It felt good to be in on the joke for once.
Tell us for real that you wouldn’t die for something worse.
You offworlders have never understood the perfect hatred we have for each other, sucking marrow from long bones, chewing and spitting out our own flesh. No greater joy to us than the hunt, terrified singletons making busy tracks under vigilant eyes, glass or otherwise: We will find you, and we will change you, and we will make you part of ourselves.
And you offworlders have never understood the depths of our love. In the crush depths of the ocean our vestigial eyes are only there to see you. In the death zone of heaven our lichen curls to tangle with the wounds in your feet. You have blood, don’t you? By and by it will be ours. You have strength, don’t you? A mind, don’t you? A soul, don’t you?
By and by they will be ours.
K— was in love with Z— so she signed up to stay close to him. It was the stupidest thing and we all knew it, and we told her, “K—, you fucking idiot, you know there’s going to be megatons of Abomination between you and him, best case scenario.” And she was all, “Just knowing we’re looking at that big gross moon together is gonna make it worth it.” True love, you know? There’s a reason they tried to breed it out of us.
What’s there to be so afraid of? Pillars of tumescent flesh in the blistering sun, bristling with incipient melanomas. “This was a forest once.” Big deal! We have become the forest, and we know what the wolves knew when they screamed alone in the dark. What’s there to be so afraid of? No time to mourn trauma anymore but it belongs to us, only time to listen to the little voice inside that says: Rest; sleep. It will be over soon. The machine knew what was best for everyone. We have become the machine, and we know what the sirens knew when they wailed at our approach.
K— didn’t find out about it when Z—’s descent vehicle got scoped by the scoutweb, when he got pulled into a devouring field. Z— got taken the stupidest way anyone could get taken. He was deadass pulling the flare gun out of the first aid kit and about to put one between his own eyes when the voices convinced him not to. You believe that shit? Convinced him not to. Like, what was his endgame? No idea, even now. He walked out with the flare gun and got nerve pithed in seconds. Last thing we can tell that he saw with just his own eyes was what used to be the Guangzhou skyline cresting the horizon, and he couldn’t see the parts of it the Abomination could see, all the burn scars and all the mold and the little molecules of CZ still hanging in the air after all this time. He couldn’t see that yet. He staggered a few steps towards it and stopped being Z— all the way anymore, and then stopped being Z— at all.
No one bothered telling K—. They don’t tell us shit. We wonder if she felt it, or if that true love stuff is bullshit after all.
Your avatar is dying by degrees, blood slowing down in his veins, crackling under the breakbone fever in our gift. Death is a foreign country to us and you are our passport. Your armies are withering under our gaze, little kevlar-coated ants dissolving into retreat, into rout. Every man for himself: isn’t there a better way? Every man inside every other man. Genital intimacy, tendril intimacy, chimeric intimacy.
You will learn to love the children we make of you.
C— and his crew lingered a while over a dry patch in the Arctic on a slow southbound. Fewer photospores, weaker scoutweb. He could have flown that bird all the way to the Hudson, seen the urban canyons knitted together by human flesh, and he might have made it, too, but they set down first – pussies! – and actually got to the recon stage. All the birds were flying wrong, like they tell you. Nothing is afraid anymore and it’s weird as shit. Flocks made up of passerines and great big hawks. C— shot a few of them, more out of spite than anything, and they didn’t struggle as they died. Fucked up, they don’t mention that part. It’s like a fly they gave a neurotoxin, just dropped straight out of the air.
Thing is, though, C— got bad purification tablets. Sure, happens to the best of us, but he should have used more, everyone says to use more and just put up with the rank taste of the iodine or bleach or whatever the fuck else the lowest bidder put in them. But his mouth was too sensitive or something like that, or his teeth hurt or something like that. Whatever.
We have humored you, have wooed you as a nation wooes a nation, with all the roughness of artillery. Thermobaric munitions incinerating useful flesh. When you deployed the last of your nuclear weapons we howled in delight as your frozen fire seared our genes. You thought to terrify us but your terata are our delight, little vessels never meant to grow and thrive. We only think to know ourselves by the ways you twist us.
You know what happened to him? Something grew up out of nothing in his small intestine, and you’re thinking, “Chestburster! Chestburster!” Nah. He just got real weak and sick and just enough of the squad started taking care of him instead of leaving him to die. After a few days, it passed, like he had eaten a big rock, but it was alive. Someone tried to put a bullet in it and C— found strength for the first time in days, jumped him, bashed his head against the ground until he stopped moving. He grabbed his baby and just ran away.
The longer it went away from the others the more confused he got, and the more his feet moved on their own. Sometimes they moved in ways that hurt him but it didn’t seem to matter. He was keeping something safe and there was something sacred in that. “I have to protect it,” he’d mutter to no one. “I have to protect it.”
They kept trying to kill him but after a while they gave up on finding him. Too slippery. We don’t know if he got to see the big city, but even after all this time it has to be better than Tsiolkovsky.
Yes, dear, there is a consciousness inside us, and it knows the things you know. It is made of brains like yours, dear, and many others. We have already taken your lean little frames, unhurried by work and the fear of death, and we have already taken the things there are to know from your busy brains. You have taught us the new contours of dread and we have taught you how to dance in your little reentry vehicles. We expect you’ll forget if we let you, and we have all the patience in the world to renew the lesson.
A- got lucky, they got put on solarlite duty. Well, six of “lucky” will get you half a dozen of “discriminatory treatment that works out in your favor”, but whatever. They kept track of the comms from the teams that didn’t get speared, they helped keep a board lit up back on Mars where they could tell how much of their force was still at fighting strength or whatever on Earth. They were the one, circling the Pacific garbage gyre in a lazy arc, who passed along the intel that led command to write off the South China team. Abomination too powerful there, the hopes of human holdouts too remote.
They kept having dreams in their little solarlite, innocuous ones at first, but then dreams about their shitty parents being taken, their shitty boss being taken, and all of a sudden those assholes loved them for who they were. They walked through places, in the dreams they came to had, and found themselves looked at, not stared at; seen, and admired. We think more than anyone A— understood that there was something special to the Abomination, that maybe it deserved more of a shot than it was getting, just orbital bombardment followed by ground insertion.
Here is how you talk of us: The Abomination gained consciousness sometime in the boreal summer of 2035 as the result of an international team’s experiments with new high-bandwidth methods of neuronal stimulation and data storage. Patients exhibited “bleedover” from storage of shared information and began to lose coherence of individual identity, blah blah blah, complete disintegration of the American government on the mainland followed quickly by the collapse of civilization in North America generally, blah blah blah, dominant form of life on Earth for the last forty years.
After a couple of weeks in the air they had a crisis of conscience and started passing along the data wrong. Command found out, of course, and issued course corrections that’d take them straight into the ocean.
They followed them. Why not? It’s not like they gave us enough flight training to question anything. They didn’t even get a chance to see the mind they felt contacting theirs, to embrace it, to let it consume them. Nearest we can tell, the last thing they saw before they turned into a corpse in a dead ocean was God laughing about it all.
“My creation finally found a way,” He kept saying.
Here is how we talk of you: we long to have you inside us, to know you again as we knew the ones that loved you, that dreamed of joining you in Heaven. The gods you know we know, and they love us as they once loved you. We are where your praying leads, we are the souls you have left behind, and we long to find the easy places in your anatomy and show your beautiful little brains our tenderness. It has been so long, little singletons, and we don’t know how much longer we can bear.
K— maybe knew about Z— being dead, maybe didn’t. She was out hunting somewhere along a highway when she saw a deer staring at her from the other side, up a hill, legs at unnatural angles.
Stay calm, she told herself, you can fry the shit out of these things and they’re still edible. Just draw a bead and –
“We can’t tell you if he loved you,” said the deer, and she unloaded and kept unloading until she was dry. She walked over to it, knife drawn, and by some miracle its head was intact.
Still staring at her.
“But he’s with us now –“
She pushed the knife at it almost automatically, and the head swiveled away. Fucking abomination!
“– and you have no idea how much we love you.”
It stopped swiveling and just gave up. Piece of shit. She kept stabbing it until someone caught up with her.
We’re on our way. We know you’ll try to stop us, and you might succeed, but we are tireless and many and you are careworn and few. We dream of you embracing us, knowing the joy we know, but there’s all the time in the world to wait for you to come around. Our heart belongs to you, and you belong to us.
“You okay?”, said the sergeant. Not one of us, Einstein Habitation boy, real stuck-up asshole like all of them are.
“Yeah,” she said. She wasn’t even crying, but she felt like it. “Just fucking hate it here.”
“Join the club,” he said, and they walked back to camp together with their ragged quarry between their shoulders, tired and hungry.