“Eugh!” Mina screamed, dropping the freshly decapitated Doctor Bugman. We stood in a chamber somewhere on the IntElect singularium next to a pit of half-eaten oranges and mutilated cats. Across from us stood Brundelzebuub, the fly-man of hell, with nothing between us but a cloud of sugar-glass.
“Fools!” Brundelzebuub screamed at the man-bees. Flies erupted from his eyes, mouth and scalp. As they did, chitinous black flesh bubbled into and out of being in waves across his skin, his eyes ballooning into blood-red kaleidoscopes which would then pop and continue gushing flies. The flies flooded the room, dying by the hundreds in my cloud of shards but hundreds more making it in to swarm my eyes, my nose, my mouth.
The glass dissolved into granules as I sputtered.
“Frggth! Pfflaw!” I tried to yell. The man-bees screeched nearby, assaulting their leader with chemical pleas for mercy. One took to his knees and shook all four of his fists in supplication. Brundelzebuub grabbed the man-bee’s head in both hands and incinerated it.
Mina was moving. What was she doing? It felt like flies had gotten into my lungs. I tried not to panic. Nobody was going to drown in flies. Needed to concentrate.
“Augh!” Brundelzebuub roared, and the flies began to swarm towards the center of the room. I hacked up wads of bugs mortared together with phlegm from somewhere deep inside my throat while the haze subsided. Mina had grabbed a cat from the pile. She was pummeling him with it.
“We! Came! To! Parlay!” and then the flies had swarmed her, and then she was rising through the air, and Brundelzebuub had a ball of fire in his hand.
“Parlay! You mean chittering. Endless, stupid monkey chittering!”
I banged my staff on the ground three times, resuming the swarm of sugar blades around me. I sent one flying- quite gently- to float in front of Brundelzebuub. “D-d-don’t play dumb, now!” I called, face numb with terror. “We both know you’re a c-clever demon, right? Surely you recognize a deal when you see it!”
His nostrils flared and one of his flies landed on the shard of sugar floating before him. Then another, and another, until it was saturated with slurping bugs. “Good…” he crooned. His skin started to stabilize, the patches of fly carapace no longer bubbling across it. One of his eyes became a man’s and it stared at me. “Speak.”
Mina floated overhead, still held captive by the swarm of flies. A hefty fist punched through the cloud to give me a thumbs-up. Attagirl. I motioned to his pile of oranges and dead cats. “So, the ship here seems to be giving you plenty of food?”
He kicked a nearby floating silver sphere with a black liquid growth on one side. The black liquid bubbled off two small blobs, which quickly reconciled into an orange and a live black cat. “Boring!” he yelled. The cat ran away with a yowl. “Slow. Flavorless.”
“Ahah! Well, then maybe you are in luck.” I held my staff high. “This, as you may know, is an official Sugar Plum Fairy Corps-issued staff, as carved from the most ancient lemonade willow of the Big Rock Candy Mountain. As its guardian, it dies with me-” that part was definitely not true- “and allows me to control sugar, as you see before you now.”
I waved the staff once and my cloud of shards stalled in the air, reversed direction, collapsed into two rings spiraling in opposite directions before returning to their original state. “This sugar can be refined into fuel, controlled by our Staves… or fed to a hungry hive.”
There were murmurs and clouds of approval but Brundelzebuub cried out over them. “Scraps! We take the mountain. The mountain is most efficient.”
“You don’t understand!” I blurted “You guys have no idea how to operate this thing. If you did, you could have blocked us at the gate. Which means as soon as anyone even finds out about this place, you’re going to lose it to someone like HOMEFRONT. And they won’t do things the easy way.”
His brow furrowed. His human eye changed to a fly’s, then back to a human’s over and over, pulsating like a heart. My own heart was doing much the same, but faster.
“These ships were like factories for the IntElect,” I continued. They could build anything. If you stay here, the ship can make you all the candy you need.”
“Stupid!’ He charged, and for a moment I was certain this was it. My skin was going to melt into a carpet of maggots or flaming flies were going to fly down my throat. I wouldn’t even have time to get properly afraid of my impending doom.
Instead, he took his thumb and forefinger together into an o-shape and flicked me across the forehead. Then he took his own head between his hands and jumped up and down two or three times. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”
“Mmmmrrf!” Mina screamed overhead. The fly-ball was constricting. This was getting bad. What was my solution, exactly? Crack open the owner’s manual? I was just an overworked college dropout with a magic stick. None of this was in my skill-set.
Shut up, I reprimanded myself. You have a magic stick. Think this through. I placed the butt of my staff against the ground while Brundelzebuub threw a temper tantrum and his troops looked on nervously.
When the IntElect were here, they’d use these structures to give humans whatever they thought we’d want. Sometimes that was drugs, sometimes that was sex-drones, sometimes that was good ol’ candy. I couldn’t sense any stores of sugar left behind, but could I somehow force the ship to build some?
I closed my eyes, listening to the song of sugar crystals in the swarm I had brought in. I listened for the individual voices that made up each molecule- oxygen and carbon forming the bass line to hydrogen’s tenor. You could hear all three in the background noise if you listened carefully enough. Somewhere deep in the singularium’s interior there were massive stores of the three, connected to the ship’s assembly machines.
Humming lightly to myself, I compelled the stored elements to form monosaccharides, and the singularium’s ancient machines did the rest. Long-dormant protocols woke up and began synthesis. Pores opened at odd angles throughout the chamber, spewing geysers of sugar to the excited buzzing of man-bees. After several minutes I ordered the machinery to stop, once the entire chamber was ankle-deep and sticky.
Brundelzebuub nodded slowly, his flies descending to allow Mina back onto the ground. She ran to my side, nervously checking her ears, nose and mouth for remaining flies. I was gripped by a moment of panic. If she had swallowed one there could be a risk of infection, and then who knows what she’d become? “I’m okay,” she whispered. Her voice was shaking.
Man-bees began to crawl around, slurping with glee. Brundelzebuub took a handful of sugar and let it run between his fingers. “It is decided, then. You will deliver us the sugar. Daily. Forever. Or we will find you, and we will eat you, and we will eat your mountain.”
“R… Right. Yes. Of course.” I wracked my brains. What was I forgetting? “One last thing. Your… family. The other uh, Dr. Bugman’s monsters.” I looked over at the doctor’s corpse. The thousand maggots that had exploded from his head were all crawling in opposite directions. “You should let them go.”
“Stop holding them prisoner.”
Brundelzebuub laughed- an obnoxious, high-pitched bark. “Doctor-lies. The siblings are elsewhere. We are as one.”
“…I see.” There was enough work ahead of me. I wasn’t going to push that one for now.
Deliberating the exact terms of our deal ended up taking about three hours. While Brundelzebuub was delusional and unstable he had a keen mind for numbers. We agreed that I’d visit the singularium once per week during our regular route, and that I’d spend at least four hours a week on the premises trying to better understand the workings of the singularium so that I could help them take control of it.
Of course, I hoped desperately that I’d figure out a better plan before handing control of world-changing technology to a plague of B-movie monsters, but there was no sense telling them that.
Brundelzebuub had just reached into The Good Doctor’s exploded skull to scoop out a mouthful of brain when a thud sounded outside, followed by a clap of thunder. Everyone made a rush for the deck. As we hurried through the twisted, sugar-loaded corridors, we could hear rain and whistling wind. Man-bee scouts were fighting and shouting outside. A bolt of lightning crashed right outside the exit, roasting a scout alive.
An ark flew in the sky, three hundred by fifty cubits of ancient gopher wood framed by clouds and lightning. A middle-aged woman stood on its prow, wild grey hair trailing over the shoulders of her leather jacket. What teeth she had were nearly brown, but her eyes were a grey so light it was barely there. “Alright, I see you scurrying around back there!” she yelled. “Call off your vermin and come back quietly.”
Mina and I shared a long look. The woman was Deluge, one of the scariest members of HOMEFRONT. She wasn’t cruel or violent when she didn’t need to be, but she wasn’t merciful either. She went around summoning storms and throwing criminals into her ark. Criminals and anyone else that needed to disappear. “It’s not too late,” I whispered. “She hasn’t seen us yet.”
We didn’t have much time to scheme, however. Within moments, Brundelzebuub had screamed for the man-bees to charge, and soon we were caught in a stream of bodies, man-bees shoving past to get out and attack Deluge. We both grabbed onto machinery jutting from the walls, clinging tight against the stampede.
The first wave of man-bees went down in a blast of lightning. Deluge stared, grim, as their guts steamed in the rain. “Suit yourselves,” she sneered, raising her hands to command a lance of wind.
“Foolishness! Obstinance!” Brundelzebuub screamed, flesh roiling with flame and chitin. Burning flies swarmed from his mouth and eyes as he went blazing into the fray.
Lightning blasted more of the man-bees. Thunder shook the singularium. Brundelzebuub flew towards the ship, wings sluggish in the rain. Deluge called down her hail.
“I wish we could let her just smash them like the bugs they are,” Mina said bitterly, likely remembering back to the cloud of flies constricting her.
“We can still escape… But there’s no way the regime won’t find the singularium if Deluge makes it back.”
“We’re in some deep shit here, Faye.”
“I guess this is what happens when you help people,” I replied. I gripped my staff. I could hear the singing of the sugar crystals outside and within, but the rain was treacherous. Anything I built was bound to dissolve in the downpour. Which left plan B.
Messy, messy plan B.
Deluge was powerful, but she was a human woman with human biology and a middle-aged metabolism. It would take a delicate touch to do this right without killing her. I focused on the sugars flowing through her blood-stream and gave them a very gentle nudge. Be still, I commanded. Just stay in place for a few moments.
Before long, her movements were growing sluggish. Brundelzebuub managed to get a strike in against the maelstrom, pounding her with a flaming fist. She staggered back on the deck of the ark, then slipped, hypoglycemic stress gripping her body as I held her blood sugar in stasis.
She lost consciousness. The clouds stopped their rain and light. Brundelzebuub held her aloft by her hair, his smile crawling with insects.
“You did it!’ Mina squealed, wrapping me in her massive arms. Our demon ‘colleague’ laughed as he hoisted the HOMEFRONT official over his shoulder.
“Yeah, I definitely did… something.”
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