Coyote stood in front of the long mirror on Aft Deck, staring at himself. There'd been something about the way Martine & Jacques had looked at him. With pity. Dismissal.
"Of course you don't have a soul, 'yote," they said. What weren't they telling him? He pulled off his clothes and began to turn from side to side, searching his body for a maker's mark. At first he could find nothing. But then, suppose it was hidden beneath his hair? So he burnt his hair off with one of the kitchen lasers. He had to know.
And sure enough, there it was. Small but unmistakable. A cock-shaped mole, stamped behind his right ear.
"You're a cog in someone else's wheel. Just like me." That was what 'Nna had said. So she'd known. Maybe she'd even seen him made. The thought was horrifying. His own face on a rack with a thousand others. He pulled at his skin, wondering what it was made of.
He could bleed, he was sure of that.
But he'd never broken a bone, never been sick, at least not that he could remember.
And memories! He hardly had any. Jacques told him he'd been found on a Rush shuttle, the only surviving member of a brave party that had ventured too far into the Frontiers. That was why they wanted him, Martine & Jacques. For his experience, they said. You'd be such a help, they said.
He'd believed them. He stretched the skin around the mark, staring at it.
Believing them. Stupid. Believing in them, like a stupid animal. Like a stupid machine. Was that what he was? Just another machine?
Maybe so. But they'd underestimated him. He wasn't a slave a cog, a commission or anything else. He was himself. He was Coyote.
(Was that even his name.)
They couldn't do this to him. Call him up out of nothing, then expect him to obey! Like a dog!
He looked at himself. He was naked and bald, wild-eyed. He looked terrifying.
Good, he thought. He grabbed the laser and went down the hall.
"Martine!" He would show her what it was they'd called up.
"Martine!" Jacques cried. "Yaa-"
"Hsst!" Martine said. She was tucked into a corner outside the deck, her gun at the ready. He followed her gaze to where Tomas lay collapsed on the kitchen table, his skin covered in glittering seeds.
At least, they looked like seeds. They had burrowed into and through the body of the boy. The body looked collapsed, as if all the matter inside it had been sucked out. A syrup pooled around the chair's legs, oozing from Tomas' hands, his fingernails. As the strange seeds moved over the dead man's face, Jacques saw they had liquefied Tomas' insides.
They were drinking him.
Like venomous beads at his tear ducts and pores, they were sucking him dry. Other beads flitted around the room, occasionally diving through solid matter. It was impossible to see how they did it: they did not seem to even bore a hole. Martine looked at Jacques, her hand on her belly. She kissed him as she held up the gun. "I will see you in another life, my love," she said.
She closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. Then blood was everywhere. The hive filled the air, was flying towards him.
"Nyaaah!" he said, throwing himself at them. He felt them pass through his skin. He flew on. Through the walls of the Kingsolver, into space, into nothing. He hurtled between the stars.
"Relax," a voice said. "Welcome. You are on Orbital 9, the creation station of the Iceman. Your mind has been successfully..."
Number One took a long, shaky breath and closed his eyes. He was surprised at how much he wanted to live. It was a malfunction perhaps; this strange feeling that made his eyes feel too full and his interior whirl. Was this experience of life worth dying for? It was terrible, a terrible freedom, to know that none of his experiences mattered. He may as well have not happened at all. He thought of 'Nna as he waited; of the moment when, as she'd led them into the Kingsolver, their hands had brushed. And she'd looked at him, then, just once: her gaze depthless and still.
Her hand had been warm.
News of the attack spread quickly throughout the Oup Hind. The last blank to die sent out a broadcast, using the security footage as his distress call.
The footage began with screams. A naked man flung himself around in the background covered in what looked like bees, while a man sat calmly in front of the screen. His expression was remote. His blonde hair was perfectly combed. "Our ship is under attack. Our attackers call themselves the Mituants. They are the machines of a murdered society." He leaned forward. "They are angry."
The footage flicked to the kitchen deck, where Coyote, still screaming, was climbing the walls, having just seen the bodies of Jacques & Martine.
Their bodies were covered with swarms. Coyote slid down the wall, jerking wildly. As he puddled on the floor, a Mituant bled from his tear duct. Then another. Thick as slugs, they crawled down his cheek to enter his mouth. Bristling bodies skittered over his skin; worming into his ears; his face; to swim and suck inside him.
The blonde man flashed onscreen again. He lurched upright as a churning mass filling the hall behind him. His eyes and mouth glittered, filled with wet-seeming, inky slugs. They worked his face clumsily, mashing it open and closed, making it speak. "The Mituants are here. We are here, and we are coming." Then the body fell down again, and was only a mass of darkness on the floor.