Preamble: This the eleventh and penultimate chapter of a serialized science-fiction short story concerning animal control and an exterminator. (Previously: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 and Chapter 10)
by Cheeseburger Brown
I rounded the last low hill before the sandy coast, then descended into a thick soup of water-based fog.
After wandering around a while pinging aimlessly I caught sight of the general's luminous tits, twin beams of disciplined laser wavelengths cutting through the cloud. When I met her she put a sure hand on my shoulder. "Accompany me, William. An interlocutorium has been erected over here."
"Sir, how is it negotiations resumed?" I wanted to know. "What is there to negotiate with biology? It's absurd."
"Lives are at stake," she said with a solemn dip of her helmet. "Until we get a full grid operational again those hostages are vulnerable to permanent death. If that means indulging animal rights activists to buy time, so be it. It's your Queen of Space at the middle of it all, you know. And she insists."
"Insists on what?"
"That you, William, serve as emissary at the parley."
"You are not a soldier. She mistrusts you differently than she does us."
I sighed. "I'll want time-and-a-half for this."
"Somebody get me an accountant, on the double!"
The improvised interlocutorium was a crater with all the rubble blown to the edges. A crude scaffolding led over the lip and up to a platform positioned before the ancestors' ambassadors. Their stage was surrounded by human soldiers. As I crossed the scaffolding to the stage I was able to see that the soldiers were in fact corpses. Their armour was ruined and stained with ichor. Some lacked a limb. Some were even missing parts of their heads. Never the less, they stood. Their dead eyes tracked me as I walked, my palette sniffing cautiously as it followed.
Queenie, two majors and a lieutenant were on the platform opposite the steaming muzzles of the ambassadors. It was the lieutenant I'd given hydrogen cyanide to. He waved when he recognized me. "How's it going?"
"Pretty good," I said. To the Queen: "How did you rig all this up, lady? I have to say: I'm impressed. Ancestors have never had a friend like you before."
She gave me a humourless smile. "Wait until we discover the friend in you, William."
"This is going to be persuasive, is it?" I snarked. "It's that good, what you have to say on their behalf?"
Both of the majors nodded in unison, their expressions fixed in matching vacancy. I looked between them and the ancestors lumbering nearby, folds of skin slopping down over their eyes to mop them.
I took an abrupt step backward. "What's this?"
The lieutenant touched my arm, his fingers firmer than friendly. "Don't be alarmed, William. This tactic hardly hurts."
I reached behind me for my palette but it wasn't there. It was being held back, whimpering, by the steely grip of a dead soldier.
"Dung," I bleeped. "Dung, dung, dung!"
I was encircled by the undead, their burnt and compromised armour reflecting my own horror back to me from the clean bits between the dented phallic spikes and unblinking blinky lights. They raised their weapons at me. The weapons hummed as they spun up to discharge.
I was hit by a couple of electromagnetic pulses which left me stumbling and dizzy. A cross-spectral shrieking made me clap my hands over my ears -- but it didn't do any good: the sound was at the network level. The majors held me down while the lieutenant plunged his fist into my anatomy and interrupted my spine. "Don't turn me into one of them!" I begged. "Don't turn me into a zombie!"
I could hear the Mad Queen speak beside me, but could not turn my head to see. "Do not resist, William," she commanded. "You will not be a zombie. We have in mind a more subtle role for you."
I was locked in a Faraday cage, isolated and paralyzed, helpless and afraid. The great mammals loomed over me, exchanging tools and liquid signals, their primal eyes magnified monstrously as they peered at me through stacks of glass lenses. At their mercy. A living nightmare.
They opened me up and started at work within me.
My awareness acutely dissociated in a panicked attempt to flee the scene, fragmenting my key processes and thereby forcing a hard reboot. There was a global interruption; and then