With Brundelzebuub’s latest attack, everything was out of control. Mina’s friend Jereme was wearing the form of a bodybuilder, screaming at the sight before his eyes. The friend he’d boarded our singularium with lay dead at his feet, head burnt and crumpled between Brundelzebuub’s flaming mitts. All around them the singularium was buzzing with chaos as the man-bees short-circuited, losing themselves in a murder frenzy on everything nearby.
I reached for my sugar staff and cursed. The damn thing was locked up back at my apartment, too hot to handle right now thanks to that tracking device Commander Woodward latched onto it. The man… boy? With the crumpled head flickered on the viewfeed. He’d been controlling the bees somehow when Brundelzebuub killed him. That must have been why the man-bees were afrenzy now.
“Shit, Jereme!” Mina yelled. She barrelled towards the doorway. Two man-bees tore into each other, ripping off chunks of chitin plating with their mutant strength. For a second it seemed like Mina could make it past them, but just as she passed through the threshold their frenzy opened up to invite her in. Yellow-bristled hands yanked at her legs and shoulders. The sound of her machine pistol filled the room, all the sounds of a passing train compressed into a single second.
One man-bee lay wasted, burst pseudothorax seeping on the ground. Its remaining eye rolled to and fro as its hybrid nervous system struggled to finish processing its death. The way its body spasmed was entirely insectoid but its cries were… not.
Mina sobbed. The second man-bee tackled her to the ground as she tried to struggle past, soaking her clothes in his dead brother’s blood.
On the screen Jereme was scrambling up the machinery while man-bees and Brundelzebuub raged below. Gouts of flame shot from the demon fly-man’s hands as he struggled against the swarm. Daringly- or just stupidly- Jereme used the security of his newfound perch to pull a hard-drive from his pocket and drop his gloves to the floor. Soon, 1s and 0s were flowing across his skin, trickling out of the walls and into the hard-drive.
Everything was fucked. The man-bee straddling Mina was on her back, trying to twist both of her wrists together in its hands. The machine-pistol weighed on my sternum. Of course I wasn’t a killer. Of course there had to be a better way. Of course, if I’d only had more time…
It was happening. To this day I can feel all two seconds of it mapped on the skin of my hand. The abrupt bite of the pistol grip scraping my palm. Every time my finger flexes, whether it be to type out a memo or tickle a loved one, I feel the weight of the trigger against it. The wave of recoil running up my arm as bullets erupted from the barrel becomes an ingrained rhythm, a permanent counterpoint to my own pulse.
Blood and meat splattered from the man-bee’s back. More yellow goo rained on Mina as her attacker bucked, tumbled, went slack.
She was crying. I was crying. We held each other in the doorway while the man-bees continued to frenzy outside. I pressed my ear as far into her chest as I could. Her heartbeat boomed and her massive hands wrapped my head, but nothing could drown out the sounds of murder.
“We have to keep going,” she whispered. It was unthinkable. I’d just finished making sure she was alive, and she couldn’t just wait here where it was safe. What was all that for? How could she take away even this moment of solace? But when I looked in her eyes there was someone I’d never seen before. The ease and gentleness I’d always taken for granted had been stuffed away. In its place, something grim. Something that wasn’t ready to stop.
Shaking, I pulled myself to my knees. My pistol had scattered to the floor. Mina slid it towards me with her foot. I began to shake my head but she grabbed my arm and pointed at it. Her face showed no anger. In fact, it showed nothing at all.
I picked it up. There was man-bee blood splattered all over it. Looking down, there was man-bee blood splattered all over my arms and legs and torso, probably all over my face as well. But there was no time to worry about that, because Mina had already ducked into the hallway and begun mowing down man-bees. I stood just inside, covering my ears and waiting for it to stop.
“Coast’s clear,” she declared after a moment. Her voice was empty. She might as well have said, “looks like rain” or “yeah, chicken’s fine.” She waited just long enough to be certain that I heard before moving on. I had to follow.
Before that day I’d only ever seen two dead bodies. First was mom, at her funeral. That was hard because I knew her, but at least her death had been peaceful. Then was Dr. Bugman, when Brundelzebuub blew his head off. That was less peaceful, but at the time I was too distracted by my own dread to really take it in.
Here in the temporary stillness of a corpse-filled hallway, there was no filter between the carnage and my brain. It was like old war footage, bodies littering the ground, lifeless eyes staring from wherever they fell. I couldn’t make it. “There has to be a better way,” I protested.
Only now did Mina let frustration enter her voice. “Faye, there’s no time. He’s going to waste Jereme if we don’t move it.”
“The computers… Surely they can figure something out.”
“Maybe if we give them ten hours. Jereme doesn’t have that kind of time.” And with that she’d turned back around, gun at the ready. She didn’t look back.
Not for me. I bailed back into the control room. “Internal Surveillance, keep streams on Jereme, Mina and Brundelzebuub,” I ordered. “External, figure out how the fuck these people got in here.”
My heart rattled in my chest as the sub-singularia projected their video-streams. Jereme had given up on whatever he was trying to do with the hard-drive. He’d taken to kicking away at a pair of man-bees clambering about his perch. Mina drew near him, machine pistol close to her heart. Brundelzebuub had retreated to his throne-room, where he’d paused to feast on the burnt husk of a man-bee.
What the hell was I supposed to do with all of this? The most complicated things we’d been able to get the singularium to construct so far had been the LiteBoat, and that wasn’t exactly good for taking on an army of berzerk man-bees. Worse, the sound of Brundelzebuub’s chewing echoed throughout his throne room. He was disgusting. Brutal. The way he’d crushed that little guy’s head…
The little guy. He’d had some kind of doohickey plugged into his head, the one that Jereme tried to plug into the wall. I scanned the footage. Whatever it was, it still dangled from the singularium wall by its remaining cord although the end going to the little guy’s head had been incinerated by Brundelzebuub’s attack.
“Analysis, is there any way you can figure out what that thing does?”
“Scanning,” the computer replied. Mina mowed down another pack of man-bees in the video stream. Jereme jumped and shouted in response. They must have been close enough to hear each other but they appeared to be in separate rooms. “The device is a pheromonic radio jammer,” it concluded. “It uses radio signals to trigger pheromonal reactions.”
“Can you control it?” More man-bees went down in a hail of bullets. Brundelzebuub tossed a roasted man-bee leg to the ground and approached the throne room exit.
“Affirmative,” Analysis replied.
I took a deep breath. The man-bees hadn’t asked for any of this. But with Brundelzebuub on the prowl, Mina and Jereme were in danger. Surely their being human counted for something. Surely being human made what I was about to do okay. “Seal off the rooms containing me, Mina and Jereme. Then direct all man-bees to swarm Brundelzebuub.”
“Threat histories indicate Brundelzebuub is likely to eliminate many man-bees before dying. Continue?” Brundelzebuub was nearing the edge of his throne-room. Blades of fly and flame curled up from his shoulders.
“Continue,” I commanded. The door to the command room sealed shut next to me. Jereme and Mina’s heads whipped around as they, too, were sealed in. Other rooms and corridors slammed shut throughout the singularium as Analysis and Internal Surveillance attempted to better funnel the man-bees into the throne room. Soon they were swarming towards Brundelzebuub.
I could barely watch the man-bees move. They were mechanical, too-perfectly coordinated compared to the chaotic milling about they got up to most of the time. I hadn’t been sure at first whether or not they were people… but they sure as hell weren’t this.
In a matter of moments they’d swept the throne room, burying Brundelzebuub in an avalanche of bodies. An aura of flame blazed within the pile but the man-bees swarmed with such ferocity that even their burning skeletons proved impossible to get through, the weight of the ones at the edges pressing corpses and dismembered stingers into his body.
Flies swarmed out through the flames and swarmed to choke the marching man-bees but this only added more corpses to the stampede. Yellow blood steamed, then curdled as it rained on Brundelzebuub’s burning head, drenching him in a sizzling layer of golden blood pudding. He screamed, mouth and throat filling with burnt exoskeleton and bubbling ichor.
Before long all that remained was a smoldering corpse which the man-bees began to frolic in like the leavings of a demented pinata. “Stand down,” I commanded. “All man-bees stand down.” A shudder ran through the collective. In a wave of hibernation, the man-bees fell among their dead.
With the man-bees hibernating, I ordered the sub-singularium to open up the area where Mina was holed up. She wandered out into the hallways, gun drawn as she stepped over the dormant man-bees. I intercepted her. “Brundelzebuub is dead,” I said quietly. “I was able to get control over the man-bees. They killed him.”
“Jereme?” she asked.
I nodded my head. “He’s sealed in that room over there. There’s a few man-bees asleep with him, but he should be fine. The sub-singularia are trying to figure out how he and his friend got in here to begin with. We’ll have to talk to him to figure out why.”
“Hot damn,” Mina said quietly. “Sounds like we’ll have this situation under control before too long.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “But what the heck are we gonna do then?”