Stage Right: Sent For or No
October 13, 2016
Bnillim watched the recording silently. Yet another human, strong in body, approached the faintly glowing orange shard. A voice in the background ordered the man to take it. As his hand clasped around the stone, his body twisted, turning and wrenching. A flush crept under his dark skin, leaching away the vitality of life and replacing it with something other – a power Bnillim had seen many times since waking in the prison. Fifty-two. The man rippled, his skin and muscles and very being fluttering between this world and the stone. His mouth opened and let loose an unnatural sound caught between anguish and exaltation. When he was ordered to release the shard, he did not, and a dart was fired into the man’s neck. He fell to the ground. The recording ended.
“Even without your assistance, we have found a way to prevent the subjects from being sucked into the stone. But our attempts to utilize those who survive are complicated by the deterioration of their bodies. Tell me how you were able to wield the stone without dying.”
Bnillim did not respond. Predictably, the human questioning him tapped out a code on his electronic pad and the surfaces in the room pulsed out a high frequency. The sound waves beat against Bnillim’s cranium. The processing core was disrupted, electric signals firing rapidly and Bnillim slumped down against the wall, unable to move until the man entered another command to halt the torture.
Bnillim knew it was torture, although the man, Threwe, called it incentive. That euphemism was understood as well. Uncle had used both, many times, across many star systems, leaving in his wake creatures alive and begging for the release of death and the more fortunate corpses that had no more utility or amusement. Bnillim could not experience pain, but a deep seated imperative to continue existence and succeed in the mission from father was threatened by captivity and incentive. Inability to do as Father had asked was like pain. Bnillim imagined it was the worst kind of torture that a being without nerves and flesh could experience.
One hundred eighty-six. That was the number of times Threwe had incentivised Bnillim. None of his questions had been answered.
“How do you harness the stone’s power?” When there was no response, Threwe tapped his pad again. One hundred eighty-seven. It took longer than usual for Bnillim to recover mobility, but he could hear a second voice outside his cell, speaking to Threwe but remaining out of sight.
“Perhaps it doesn’t understand English?”
“Oh, it does. The thing looks to items I mention and follows instructions on how to access the water faucet in the cell. It understands – it just refuses to cooperate.”
“Can you increase the efficacy of your sonic pulses?”
“Not without causing permanent damage, and if it dies I want to be able to dissect it.”
“Wouldn’t live tissue and fluid samples be more helpful?”
“Of course, but as we discovered when it was brought in, subduing it and cutting through the skin will require tremendous amount of energy and specialized tools. I lost four technicians and seven guards when it woke up that first time.”
There was a long silence, and Bnillim listened hard, hoping to hear any indication of where they had taken the stone.
“The first batch of survivors have been isolated. Their bodies are useless now, but while they lasted they made perfect soldiers. Strong, fearless, obedient, and they seem to heal rapidly. We have several teams in the field now and they are performing well.”
“It is just as I theorized, but I need more information to work through the stability issues. Stronger men seem to make the best vessels, but even they succumb eventually.”
“Are you saying you need stronger subjects?”
“If such a thing existed, yes.”
“Kill the alien creature, if you have to, but find a way to stabilize utility of the subjects for at least six months’ use. Human beings aren’t cheap, Dr. Threwe. I need to get my money’s worth.”
They moved away, their voices slowly fading. Bnillim stared at the ceiling, wishing Father could offer guidance. The shard needed to be protected in the hands of one who could not be corrupted, but Bnillim would not be able to locate and retrieve it if Threwe followed his orders. The stone could not be used for evil. It could not be made whole or returned to Uncle. Bnillim decided. Escape. Assessment. Secure allies if necessary. Retrieve.
Somewhere on the watery planet, third from the yellow star, there must be one who would help.