I sank into the captain’s chair and formed the airship from our sugar. Mina and I had bickered with her buddy Jereme for hours in that library, but eventually he’d talked us into it. What choice did we have? It was that or let a singularium full of man-bees swarm the Free Coast.
Dr. Bugman figured that Brundelzebuub was headed to the Big Rock Candy Mountain for food. “The good doctor” had been running low on his monsters’ favorite sweets ever since he’d hatched the man-bees. They’d sniffed out the singularium’s carbon stores while hunting for food. Not long after, Brundelzebuub kicked the doctor out and declared himself King of the Man-bees.
Our best option was to get the Dr. Bugman’s monsters back under control before they stormed the Free Coast. We would fly in from above, send a trail of sugar out to Brundelzebuub as bait, and then trap him in a candy shell.
In theory, the whole thing would be clean and easy. Dr. Bugman would get his monsters back, the mountain would escape a plague of locusts (or whatever) and nobody had to hand game-changing technology to the Regime.
And yet, none of this felt clean. Or easy. First, we couldn’t agree on pay. There was nothing the Posse could offer the Corps without arousing suspicion, which meant we were doing all this for civic duty and a future favor. Second, there was no way we could tell Captain Woodward. If he got a whiff of what was going on he’d inform the Regime. There was no way the Corps could survive if it came out later that he’d known something and hidden it.
Even if we put all that aside, I had to wonder what the plan was once we finished. We were headed to an IntElect singularium. The tech on-board would be ground-shaking. Given enough time you could find designs for vehicles, weapons… All the things you’d need to start a civil war. We couldn’t leave this stuff in the hands of the Regime. Yet, leaving it with the Posse Communitatus didn’t feel great either.
I said as much to Mina before we arrived to pick up Dr. Bugman.
She nodded slowly. “You’re not wrong. I left the Posse for a reason. That Schilling woman they’ve got running things now is out for blood.” She bit her lip. “Still, what’s our better option? Narc on them? Steal it? We’re not exactly Bonnie and Clyde.”
“We’re not even Thelma and Louise,” I agreed. “Maybe we should just keep our heads down.”
“Yeah… The Posse might not be the best, but they’re the easiest option that isn’t pure evil.”
“Okay. Here’s the rub, then. Priority number one is not getting caught. We can’t put the Corps at risk.”
“Obviously. But what if we do get caught?” I tried to pretend I didn’t hear, but Mina was having none of it. “Faye? If we do get caught, what’s the plan?”
“I mean… We can’t let them believe it was a Corps operation, can we? We’d have to confess it was all on us.”
“So… we get seen, that’s it. One slip up and we turn ourselves in.”
“It’s the only right thing to do. So let’s not get caught.”
“Agreed.” We landed outside Dr. Bugman’s underground super-lab. From above it appeared as a humble bee farm. Below lurked whatever strange devices the doctor used to make his monsters. Nobody could know for sure what he might have down there. Super-science, or mad science if you prefer, barely resembled the regular thing. Regular science worked because the rules were the same across the universe. Mad science worked because the Other-Force could change those rules.
The doctor was waiting for us outside when we arrived, two heavy black leather bags in his hands. He was completely bald and wore an enormous pair of black-framed glasses. He also wore a lab coat even though we’d be doing precisely zero lab work on the mission. One glance could tell you he was definitely committed to his ‘mad scientist’ schtick.
The world had certainly gotten schtickier over the last decade, and not just because Americans are naturally tacky. See, the Other-Force knew all of mankind’s hopes and dreams. It knew our stereotypes, our archetypes, our cliches. Lots of folks had come around to the idea that if you leaned into a cliche hard enough, the Other-Force would help you do things related to that cliche. Cue all the super-dorks going whole hog on the mask-and-cape bit.
Still, unusual lifestyle choices were no excuse to be rude. Just… judgmental. “Welcome aboard,” I shouted as Dr. Bugman climbed through onto the ship. He squinted at me, then at the accommodations.
“No seat?” he asked. It was amazing how much fury he could pack into such a small question.
“Oh, right.” Most of the ship was made from sugar, save for an old cockpit we salvaged from a plane. The cockpit gave us a safe place to sit in case of a crash but it was only a two-seater. I rearranged some sugar from the wall to make a chair. “I’m afraid I can’t make you a seat belt, but it should be smooth flying.”
He rolled his eyes before pulling a device from his pocket. It was small and black with an enormous antenna wobbling at the end. Jereme had explained that, while the singularium itself was untraceable, the doctor had ‘chipped’ each of his monsters. He curled up in his chair while we consulted the screen. In his free hand was a flask of something acrid. Green steam washed past his lips as he took a sip.
Mina caught me rolling my eyes and punched me lightly in the side. I suppressed a snicker and took off. We flew for a couple of hours, saying nothing until the singularium was less than a mile away.
It was Mina who spoke first. “Did you hear that?”
The sound itself was soft, a light thump against our ship. But then the sugar glass screamed. Whatever struck us started chewing through the hull. Looking down through the fly-stained sugar glass of our airship I could make out silhouettes crawling along the bottom. First one, then three, five, too many to count hurtling up from the clouds to swarm the ship.
A yellow blur of fur and gossamer wings flit past our windshield. There were dozens of them before long, clinging to the side of our ship and chewing away at its structure, looks of pure joy on their faces.
“What the hell is going on!?” Dr. Bugman cried, pulling a pair of headphones off.
“They must be some of those Bugmen!” I yelled.
“DOCTOR BUGMAN’S MONSTERS!” he replied.
“Right!” I tried to concentrate. The screaming from the sugar was so loud. Our ship was large enough that they’d need to chew for days before we ran out of material. Unfortunately we were just minutes from someone making a hole big enough to kill our air pressure. I had to do something.
Doing my best to drown out the screaming sugar, I prepared for aerial maneuvers in my mind. “Buckle in, I yelled.” Mina did so, pulling her seatbelt tight.
Ideally, I’d be able to just reshape the ship to deny the monsters hand-holds, propelling them off with a few well-placed sugar-fists. But we were zooming through the air with high winds and a disruption in our aerodynamics would tax my ability to hold things together. I’d have to slow down if I wanted to change shapes. The better option was to throw them off.
I took a dive.
Mina hurled yellow and green as we corkscrewed through the air. Some of the monsters lost their grip in the first wave, but a good dozen managed to cling on. Dr. Bugman went tumbling into a corner of the ship and I realized with horror I’d forgotten he wasn’t buckled in. I sculpted part of our interior walls around him to keep him from bouncing as we dived straight towards the water.
“What are you doing?” Mina screamed. I continued to dive. One or two monsters lost heart but the rest held on, resolute. I had to pull up. The ship buckled into a steady, low-altitude flight, drenching a nearby boat as our corona of air slashed the water below.
But it was no good. The monsters clung on tight. If we stayed over the water for too long the ocean mist would dissolve our craft. I pulled back up.
It would do no good to lead the monsters anywhere on the boats or onto the land. We had to stay away from civilians. Our only option was to land on the singularium itself.
G-forces drove us deep into our seats. The IntElect singularium hovered just a quarter mile away now, its structure a twinkling mix of skyline, powerplant and spaceship. The monsters began to buzz, wings vibrating. A new terror entered the sugar granules now. They were warming up, melting and caramelizing in the heat generated from the monsters’ beating wings.
We were going to crash.
The whole mess of plane parts, sugar molecules and aggressive man-bees burst into a wave of parts as we slammed onto the singularium’s deck. Our cockpit bounced violently without the rest of the ship to keep it in place, windshield shattering into a spray of shards. The world was spinning. Ears rang.
A moment of blackness. Then, too much light.
“Are we dead? Is this hell?” I asked.
Mina smacked my face. “It will be if we don’t do something!” I’d been out less than a second. Some of the man-bees had already recovered from the crash and were advancing towards us with their taser spears.
Dr. Bugman lay a few feet away, unconscious. Mina made a dash for him, dragging his limp body while his monsters pursued. That was my cue.
I had more options now that we no longer needed my sugar collection to stay aloft. Clumps of broken sugar glass rose from the ground. Granules reconfigured into a cloud of vicious blades, their structure kept intact by my sucrokinesis.
The monsters stepped back as the blades zipped around myself and Mina. “Gentle…bees!” she cried. “We have come to parlay.”
* * * * * * *
The man-bees formed two separate huddles, one in front of us and one behind, as we marched through the labyrinth that was the singularium’s interior. I left a thin trail of granules behind us so we could find our way back, a bit like Hansel and Gretel. Hopefully we’d have better luck than they did. Mina huffed and puffed next to me. Dr. Bugman hung limp on her shoulders.
You couldn’t stare at any patch of the singularium for long without getting a headache. Up close it looked less like a robot city and more like a jungle of chrome. Machinery crowded like ancient rock formations melting together. Here or there you may see something recognizable as a tool but the singularium’s bulk was an indecipherable swamp of alloys, whirligigs and blinking lights.
“Is this thing breathing?” Mina asked.
“I’m more afraid of it thinking.”
“Quiet!” one of the man-bees hissed, voice like rustling leaves and breath pungent with hostile pheromones.
“Rude,” Mina grumbled.
Not long after, the man-bees before us stopped. One representative stood at the far end of the tunnel, bathed by the light from the chamber beyond. I could only just barely make him out through the crowd of man-bees but he appeared to be dancing. Our guards buzzed with approval and the air swelled with a sweet sweat smell. “I’ve read about this,” I whispered to Mina. “Bees communicate to others within the hive by-”
A roar of flies swallowed my voice.
Imagine razors, millions of them, scraping together in some steel drum. A blast of air washed past as the man-bees dropped to their knees. The stench of human excrement, rotting fruit and brimstone sank into my clothes, my tastebuds. With the man-bees prostrate before us we could see Brundelzebuub straight-on.
Compared to his photo, Brundelzebuub actually didn’t look half bad. In fact, he looked a lot like that guy from Jurassic Park, the almost-sexy one, except that his eyes and hair were replaced with teeming black flies. He stood in a giant pile of orange slices and black cats. Identical black cats, every one of them mutilated in a different way. With an animal scream, he pointed at the doctor perched on Mina’s back and fired a single fireball from the tip of his finger. The doctor’s head exploded in a burst of flaming maggots.
“Oh, okay,” I sighed. “I guess this is the kind of day it is.”
Read Next: (2.3) Agent Litework
Wanna skip ahead to Faye’s next chapter? Go to: (3.2) Faye