Days passed. Jacques discovered, to his delight, that the blanks had all been outfitted with games. After a few games of Gok they switched to group chess, and then to ancient game called Red Rover, which made Martine furious because of the clatter.
Bored, she resorted to coaxing Tomas out of his room. They sat on the deck and drank tea, talking about their pasts.
"Mining isn't like people think," he said. "It's good work. It's absorbing, having to calibrate everything just right. And when you find a payload!"
"You miss it," she said.
"Did your family enjoy it as much as you did?"
"I think so. We had a nice routine. Drink a little coffee, program the machines. Set the lenses to examine the rock. We even had a dog. He'd sit with us-you should have seen him when Robbie, me and Dad would have to go down in our suits. We talked about making him a little suit of his own so we could bring him along." He smiled ruefully. "Mom wouldn't let us. I guess she never-hey, what's wrong?"
Martine had stood up abruptly; she stared at the wall. "Did you feel that?"
"Something. We skidded up against something. I don't know. Stay here. Jacques? Jacques?"
She left Tomas on the deck and scrambled down the ladder. The halls were empty. "Hello? Anyone?" She found Jacques with Numbers Five through Eight in the cockpit. The blanks swiveled at her.
"Something is wrong," Eight said.
"What is it?"
He pointed at the screen. "They're coming. They know what we are."
He shook his head. "That is all that they will say, mistress."
Then a strange sound began to ring through the ship. A kind of scrabbling.
"It's attacking!" Jacques pulled Martine close to him, flipping through the screens. "Look at that one." A flickering mass circled the belly of the Kingsolver. Its edges were amorphous and flickering.
"Can you get closer?" she said. "What is it?"
"Them," he said, peering at the screen. "It's made of small parts, all moving together. Like a hive."
"Maybe we can lose them," she said. He cranked the ship up to full gear, propelling them forwards. The mass did not move.
"They are Mituants," number Eight said. "You cannot lose them."
"Mituants? But look. They're disappearing." Sure enough, the hive had dissolved away. So had their peculiar sound.
"No," Eight said.
"They are here," said number Five.
"What is here?" Martine said.
From the deck there came a wild scream.
"Tomas!" She pulled her gun and ran back to the deck.
"Help her!" Jacques said. But the blanks remained where they were.
"What are you doing? Quick! We have to help her!" He pulled at them. "Jesus! Help me. Please help me. Now," he said. It was the override word the Iceman had given him.
"No," they said. "It is useless. We are all going to die."
"Help or I'll shoot!"
"It does not matter," they said. "The Mituants are machines. They are too strong. You cannot stop them. It takes a god to kill a god."
"Machines aren't gods!" he said.
Tomas screamed again; then there was silence.
"Martine?!" Jacques said. "Martine!"
"That is disputable," Eight said.
"You go to hell," Jacques said. He shot him.