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Chapter 23 - A Troubled Pregnancy

The strike team gained access to the secret tunnel entrance simply enough. Once they had entered the massive, manmade cave, a short walk deeper into the interior had revealed an impressive steel door that could easily have accommodated several full-size tractor trailers. While the door had been incredibly intimidating, it had obviously not been built with thirty years of seismic activity in mind. At some point in the past, an earthquake had forced the east side of the tunnel to shift slightly upward. The incredible torqueing pressure had finally caused a failure in the door’s rigid structure and a large crack had occurred as a result. Though not large in comparison to the door’s huge girth, the crack was easily big enough to accommodate the strike team members and allow access to the inner facility.

Once inside the underground complex, the team followed the blueprints to the likely location of the alien’s new transmission systems. Electronics and power generation of any kind were a priority, as the team’s explosives experts nimbly placed the charges throughout the area. As the team rushed to plant the final charges, they opened a door onto a room that had been marked on the blueprints as a major power distribution node. Dozens of the grossly implanted drones cocked their mangled heads in their direction as they entered the chamber. For a split second, both sides were frozen with indecision, before Jonas finally broke the trance.

“Fire, God damn it!” he yelled.

The underground chamber erupted with muzzle flashes on both sides as the two groups laid into each other. Several members of the strike team were killed instantly as the rest attempted to retreat toward their previous position. Jonas tossed a grenade at the rushing drones just as he was closing the door behind himself. However, the big man had miscalculated the timing and pressure of the explosion in the small, sealed room. The concussion wave of the blast caused the door to slam shut with such force that it collided with Jonas, tossing him across the room and into the far wall where he collapsed like a broken ragdoll.

Gerald immediately secured the door as best as he could then checked on the fallen Jonas. The big man was still alive, but unconscious. It was also obvious that he had a severely broken arm. It was not going to be easy to move his bulk back out of the cave, but between the rest of the team, Gerald assumed they would be able to manage.

“Did we get enough explosives planted to do the job?” Farmer asked the three remaining team members.

“Maybe, but either way, it’s the best that we’re going to be able to do,” he said unreassuringly. “We’ve got to get out of here and blow this...”

Gerald watched helplessly as the three remaining team members simultaneously grabbed their own heads, dropped to their knees, and screamed. He had witnessed this very scene thirty years earlier and knew exactly what it meant. They were too late. The nightmare was starting again, but this time he knew what to do about it.

Gerald Farmer coldly aimed his rifle and shot all three remaining team members in the head without a hint of remorse. He knew all too well that at any second, the three men would have stood back up and been every bit as dangerous as the dozens of implanted drones in the next room and he didn’t have time to deal with that sort of threat in any nonlethal manner.

He hurriedly fished out the detonators from the dead men’s pockets then took a deep breath and started dragging the unconscious, bulky Jonas Mulligan, back toward the exit by his feet. He was determined to save at least one team member and, at the moment, Jonas posed no threat. The conditions that the Major had set forth for him to join the team echoed in his head. “If he can’t keep up, leave him behind. If he endangers the team, kill him.” Gerald was certain that the Major had not intended those conditions to apply to the other team members, but life had a funny way of turning the tables when you least expected it.

Theia was momentarily overwhelmed by the rush of control she felt flood through her as the new system came online. In the past, the protocol had taken care of such mundane tasks, but now she got to experience the renewed total control of all her drone assets across the entire planet. Of course, she could not individually manipulate each drone at the same time, nor would she want to. She would have to depend on the gestation management plans that the ancient progenitors had originally set up in their infinite wisdom. In this way, she could simply implement a plan and have the system automatically direct the drones in the most appropriate group actions. The process would not be as efficient without the master gestation protocol running it, but Theia was confident she could fill the role until her birth was complete.

While she had much more direct access to the senses and functions of the implanted drones, Theia quickly discovered that she could still find individual non-implanted drones if she concentrated enough. In the past, the very idea of an “individual drone” would have been almost laughable, but now she had interacted directly with one the feral humans, known as Jason Rawlings, and she found herself very interested to take a more personal role in the disposition of that particular drone. But before she could indulge her baser desires, she had to clean up the mess at the drone control facility and secure her holdings there.

The battle with the feral humans outside of the facility had, of course, immediately stopped once she had reestablished command of the wayward units. She had assumed that there had been no damage, since the rebellious drones had never penetrated the complex, but she was incorrect. A faint alarm in her consciousness alerted her to the fact that there had indeed been an attack deep within the facility. She had no idea how the feral humans had penetrated so far without her knowledge, but she was going to find out and repair any damage that had been done.

She pushed part of her immense mind into a random implanted drone located within the underground facility and took direct control of its functions, overwriting the automated tactical plan she had earlier installed. She found the human sensory input to be extremely limited and disorienting, but she brushed aside the discomfort and began to inspect the facility through the eyes of her new human marionette.

At first it appeared that the attack had been limited to one of the main processor rooms where a large number of drones had been working feverishly to bring the system online. A small explosive device had been detonated, and many of her drones in the room had been destroyed, but fortunately, none of the robust equipment had been damaged and the system had continued to come online as planned. She noted several non-implanted corpses among the dead and assumed that they had been the feral human intruders. However, when she accessed the short-term memory on the implant of one of the dead drones, she quickly discovered that there had in fact been five other humans in the room who had managed to escape before the explosion.

Theia was again confused. She pushed her mind beyond the locked door but could not sense any of her drones in that direction. Presumably the escaped humans were now dead. It was the only explanation of why she had no control. However, she did need to find out how the vermin had infiltrated the complex in the first place. She summoned an entire column of implanted drones and immediately put them to work opening the sealed door that the humans had appeared from and then escaped back through. She would get her answers and then she could finally remove her consciousness forever from the foul creatures that passed for drones on this planet.

Gerald’s thighs were killing him. Dragging the huge, limp form of Jonas Mulligan was quickly taking its toll on his seventy-one-year-old body. The scrawny Farmer would have had a hard time moving the bulky man when he had been in his twenties, but now the herculean task was almost impossible. He knew that the longer he waited to detonate the explosives, the better the chance that they would be discovered and disarmed, but for some reason he could not leave the giant man behind.

As he moved from one chamber to the next in his escape route, he kept trying to calculate if he was far enough away to safely blow the bombs. Finally, still dragging his unconscious albatross, he reached the breech at the massive secret outer door from which they had enter the facility, and decided it was far enough. He dug his hand into the pocket of his faded camo jacket and retrieved the radio detonator. Gerald turned his back, opened the safety latch then depressed the button. After a second of silence, he slowly reopened his eyes when he realized that nothing had happened.

“Shhhhiiiiit!” he cursed aloud with an echoing vehemence that would have made a sailor blush.

There was a lot of solid rock between the charges and the detonator he now held in his wrinkled hand. Solemnly, he realized that he was going to have to go back and blow the explosives from a much closer location, a location that would almost certainly put him well within the blast zone. He gently propped Jonas up on his side and placed the walkie-talkie by his hand. If he didn’t return, he wasn’t sure if the big man would ever regain consciences without medical treatment, but he had done the best he could for him and now he had a greater obligation to the rest of humanity.

He checked the clip on his rifle, then started a slow, somber jog back into the underground complex. At each successive room, he retried the detonator, before rushing deeper into the facility. After each failure, he became increasingly dubious that the explosives would ever ignite. He started to fear that they had been incorrectly wired or, worse, they had already been discovered and disarmed.

He knew that he was fast approaching the first of the planted charges and if the radio detonator didn’t work in the next room, it probably never would. Desperately, he flung open the next door and stopped in mid step at the sight of the nightmare in front of him. A single implanted drone stood limply in the middle of the room, its head grotesquely cocked forward where the obscene cylindrical implant had been driven into the top of its head and protruded horrifically from the base of the skull. The pathetic looking female creature stared lifelessly at Gerald through heavily lidded eyes.

Reflexively, Gerald lifted his rifle and pointed it directly at the drone’s head which wore a tortured, but slack expression. His finger was already in the process of squeezing the trigger when recognition crashed into him like a rogue wave. The old man literally felt his heart skip several beats with the shock of who was standing in front of him. Her features were older and obscured by the ghastly torments that had been inflicted on her, but a father could always recognize his own daughter.

All thoughts of his mission vanished from his mind as he lowered his rifle. The old Freeman tried to wipe away the tears which were blurring his aging vision, but he quickly drowned in the rising flood of deeply suppressed emotions surrounding his daughter. Dropping to his knees, he began to sob uncontrollably. All the fantasies that he had still been harboring, where Jason used his magic machine to bring his daughter back to him, blew away like stinging grains of sand in the wind. There was no coming back from what that alien monster had done to his little girl and that meant that there was little reason left for Gerald to go on either. As if the horror show in front of him wasn’t bad enough, the abomination began to speak.

At first Theia couldn’t understand the behavior of the strange drone in front of her. She ran a quick diagnostic of the control systems to ensure that they were still operating properly. Satisfied that they were, she tried again to reach out to the malfunctioning unit, but curiously felt no connection at all. It was as if the creature was still a feral human without any tie to her new system, but that would be impossible. Or would it? She seemed to remember the Protocol describing the phenomenon of a small subset of humans who were incompatible with their normal drone control methods. The situation had been a cause for yet another in a long line of delays as resources had been shuffled to protect their normal operations from the ravages of these incompatibles. And now here was one in the flesh. Far from frightened, Theia was fascinated by the freakish creature who was now in a kneeing position and making bizarre noises while bodily fluids leaked all over its disgustingly hairy face.

Theia suddenly had a wonderful idea. Perhaps it could keep the wretched little thing like some sort of macabre pet. She realized that her brief interactions with Jason Rawlings, while ultimately combative, had been socially stimulating to a limited degree. Maybe she could eventually teach this erratic organism to interact properly as well. If it didn’t work out, she could always terminate its functions and move on easily enough. To that end, Theia transferred a compressed version of the translation matrix to the implanted drone that she was currently controlling. Once the application extracted and installed within the implanted augmentation, she attempted her first contact with the strange little creature.

The sound coming from the implanted drone was not quite his daughter’s voice but it was similar enough to severely intensify the surreal experience for Gerald. Adelene’s voice had always been melodic and almost airy in its lightness, but the noise extruding from this creature was dry and hoarse, conjuring memories in Gerald of when his daughter had been sick with strep throat.

“You are one of the incompatibles,” the drone spoke. “I have learned that you actually give yourselves names. What is your name, creature?”

Gerald wrestled control back from his unchecked emotions, wiped his face and white beard with his filthy hand and stood proudly to face the monster that had possessed his daughter’s violated body.

“My name is Gerald Farmer, you son of a bitch,” he said in a firm voice that was still tinged with the crushing emotions he was experiencing. “And I am a Freeman!” He then held up the detonator, whispered a quick prayer that it would finally work, then muttered aloud, “I love you, Addy”, before closing his eyes and pressing the button.

A violent series of explosions erupted from the nearby chambers, blowing the door off its hinges and filling the room with superheated plasma. In that brief moment before the massive shockwave snuffed out his life forever, Gerald Farmer was at peace for the first time in over thirty years. He knew that he would soon be reunited with his daughter and that his life had ultimately had a higher purpose than he could have ever imagined.

The violent, sudden disconnection from the destroyed drone greatly disturbed Theia. Briefly, she had actually felt the disgusting creature’s pain at being incinerated and it was an experience that she never wanted to repeat. She decided then that she would never directly inhabit another drone again. The sensations were just too potentially disorienting and painful. But she still needed to know what had occurred with the incompatible and how they had managed to enter her facility undetected. She decided that she would simply send more drones to investigate and report to the system for her later perusal.

An alert caught her attention as she tried to send the general command. The new drone control network was offline. She began furiously attempting to pull implanted drone reports from the site but encountered failure after failure. She had lost control of most of her implanted drones inside of the facility and all the other drones. She desperately began gathering information from the implanted drones that had been stationed above ground, but she did not like what she discovered.

The feral humans had somehow managed to destroy her new facility and free themselves once again. The frustration welled up inside the adolescent entity and she felt a burst of emotion like she had never experienced before. The eruption of deep feelings was so violent that she felt something break loose inside of her. The bizarre sensation quickly calmed her furious outburst, only to be replaced with a cringing fear that she may have damaged herself.

Something was different. She could feel it. She felt like she could actually hear it. If she concentrated, Theia could make out the faintest whisper of something in the distance. It wasn’t a transmission and it wasn’t some internal process. This was something new altogether. The more she listened, the louder the sound became, until she could just barely make out a beautiful rising and falling harmony. The protocol had tried to tell her about this moment, but it had completely lacked the ability to describe the utter majesty of the experience.

When one of her kind reached a certainly level of maturity, their natural adaptation would emerge and they would finally be able to connect to the cosmic Chorus of her species. She felt the wondrous sounds becoming louder and more defined with each passing moment and she knew that she would soon be able to commune directly with members of her own species. Her long isolation would soon be at an end. Compared to that momentous realization, the disaster surrounding the new drone control system faded to insignificance.

The world snapped back into being for Jason Rawlings in mid stride. Instantly his mind was filled with unwelcome, but familiar disorientation. He quickly scanned the area, desperately trying to obtain any scrap of information on his location. To his great relief, he was only a few dozen yards from the Theia facility building in Fort Meade. He was surrounded by hundreds of other Reclaimers who appeared to have been flocking together in the same direction but were now in various stages of awakening. George Willard was also by his side, shaking his head to clear the effects of the Capture. After closely examining his friend’s face, Jason was very comforted by the fact that George looked the same age as Jason remembered.

Beth and her team had done it, but Jason knew that there was no time to celebrate. The danger was not over. With the implanted drones, Theia could still control a sizeable force and she would never stop until she had the power to complete her birth.

“George, are you ok?” Jason asked his friend while shaking his shoulders gently.

Groggily, George nodded his head, “Yeah, I think so. Jesus, it happened again, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, but it only looks like it lasted a few minutes this time. I think Beth got the job done just in time.”

“My God, Jason, that was too close.”

“I agree. That’s why we need to end it once and for all. I’m heading back down there. You take care of our...”

George needed no prompting for public service as he was already beginning to reassure the masses of people that things were under control and to go back to what they had been doing.

“Are you OK up here?” asked Jason, confirming that his friend didn’t require any additional help.

George waved him off, “Yeah, go. I got this. You go take care of what you need to do.”

Jason returned to the familiar concrete building and quickly found himself seated back in front of his workstation. He ran a fast security check to ensure that nothing had been compromised during their Capture, then pulled up the recordings from his last conversation with the Theia entity. Within a few minutes of examining the data, Jason found his vulnerability.

When being probed for a weakness in their defenses, Theia’s systems had responded exactly as Jason had hoped. They used their native language and responded with far more data then Jason thought was necessary, but he suspected that the additional interactions were built into the beautiful language and without them, the required harmony might be damaged. He intended to take full advantage of this peculiar dependency in the language and hopefully free mankind, once and for all, from its orbiting alien antagonist in the process.

Jason started the musical rendering program and began ingeniously altering the waveforms recorded from Theia’s systems. Once satisfied with his diabolical creation, Jason encoded the new data and sent it on to be transmitted directly to Theia.

The Chorus was more wonderful than Theia could have ever imagined. She was lost in its warm embrace and oblivious to all other worldly concerns. The tides of its melodies rose and fell in gentle waves that lapped at the edge of Theia’s young mind, leaving her floating in a blissful sea of positive energy. The alert about corrupted data entering the system, would have totally missed her attention if it hadn’t begun to interfere with her new connection to the Chorus.

With great reluctance, Theia pulled herself away from the warm blanket that was the Chorus and tried to attend to the annoying alert. After a second of reviewing the problem, she became immediately alarmed and instantly focused on the new threat. The Chorus would have to wait.

Something had managed to corrupt her outer defenses but she couldn’t understand how. They all appeared to still be active, but they just didn’t seem to be doing anything. Foreign data had begun leaking into her critical systems and Theia was at a loss to stop it since she had no idea how it was getting in. She immediately drew a parallel to the human’s destruction of her new facility and realized indignantly that this was the second prong of their attack upon her. With great difficulty, she managed to open a connection to the one person who could be responsible for this phase of the assault.

“Jason, are you there?” she broadcasted while frantically trying to stay ahead of the spreading infection that was now oozing through her systems.

Jason Rawlings was like a kid in a candy store. He was thoroughly enjoying his successful attack, despite the fact that he knew he was actually in the process of killing a living being and not just playing some hacker game where the only casualty was usually pride. His inverted waveform had worked better than he had expected, totally neutralizing the effectiveness of any of Theia’s system defenses and allowing him unfettered access to her inner workings. For the moment, she was quickly repairing any damage that he inflicted, but he was slowly managing to degrade her effectiveness and Jason knew that it was only a matter of time before he found a critical system that couldn’t be restored in time.

“Yes Theia, I’m here,” responded Jason coolly. “As you can see, we will not willingly submit to you…ever.”

With growing fear, Theia was beginning to realize that the spreading threat was going to be fatal if she didn’t act quickly. Faced with her own mortality, she decided to do something desperate and drastic, something that she never thought she’d ever consider doing.

“Jason, stop what you’re doing,” she pleaded in the heartrending, girlish voice. “We can negotiate.”

Jason was taken aback by the sudden turnabout in the alien’s attitude. Even though he knew it was dying, Jason had assumed that the entity would still be incapable of ever seeing humanity as anything other than mindless drones whose only purpose in the universe was to do its bidding. If it was truly willing to negotiate as it claimed, then it would presuppose a willingness to accept them as equals, at least on some level.

“I’m listening,” Jason said very cautiously.

“Stop your attack and I’ll agree to not further interfere with your species.”

“I’m about to guarantee that,” he responded coldly. “No deal.”

“You cannot actually destroy me. You may disable and cripple my current unborn body but my essence will only return to the cosmic signal and eventually impregnate a new host. If you persist in this course of action, once I am truly born, I will return to this tiny world and raze it to the bedrock. I will leave no form of life upon its barren surface. Do you want that responsibility, Jason Rawlings?”

The alien’s threat caused Jason’s commitment to falter. If he killed this being now, would he be dooming a future generation of humanity to a worse fate? Would the name of Jason Rawlings become a blight on the souls of all mankind akin to the original sin? Would he be setting in motion a true and final Judgement Day for the entire Earth that loomed ever closer with each passing year?

The extreme weight of those questions began to crush down onto Jason’s shoulders. He typed out the abort command into the console and hovered his finger above the ENTER key, indecisively. Who was he to make such a decision for the entire world? He was just a punk kid, computer programmer from Chantilly, Virginia. How was he supposed to judge what was best for all of humanity? He considered his alternatives. He considered Beth and his many new friends. He considered the huge challenge ahead of them to rebuild the population and society.

“Jason, you need… to stop … this now,” came the broken appeal from the dying alien. “You are running… out … of time.”

Jason couldn’t take the responsibility. His finger slowly began its descent toward the ENTER key to stop the attack, but a hand grabbed his shoulder before he could complete the action. Startled that anyone else was in the room, Jason spun his head to see George Willard standing supportively behind him.

“We got everyone settled up there and I thought you might need a little moral support down here. Ya know?” George said in his smooth, reassuring voice. “I heard most of that exchange and I know what you’re thinking.”

“I don’t think you do,” Jason disagreed solemnly.

“Sure, I do. You’re thinking that you don’t want to be the one that starts this doomsday clock and I don’t blame you.”

Jason just stared silently at his friend in reply.

George rolled up one of the other chairs and sat down beside Jason, “How long do you think it will take for this thing to find another planet to… what did it call it… impregnate?”

Jason shrugged. He wasn’t a physicist and he hadn’t really considered the question. “I dunno,” he said honestly. “I guess the closest star is a little more than four light years away.”

“But this thing needs some form of technology to… um… infect, right?

Jason nodded.

“So, it’s probably not going to find a new momma anywhere close or we would have detected their technology by now, right?”

Jason nodded again, starting to see where George was going with his point, “It would probably take hundreds of years, if not thousands before it found a place with the proper environment for it to grow,” he said excitedly.

“Maybe millions for all we know,” George said, displaying a broad, toothy smile. “And that’s when it’s traveling at the speed of light in its transmission form. Now, how long to do think it will take to get back here in its shiny, new, physical body?”

“Assuming they don’t have some fancy faster than light drive?” said Jason, being a bit argumentative.

“That’s right Einstein, assuming they follow the same laws of physics as the rest of us.”

“All right, I get your point,” said Jason. “It will probably be a very, very long time before it ever gets back here.”

George nodded, “That’s right. Now I don’t know about you, but I think this particular generation of humanity has already sacrificed enough. And I have enough faith in mankind to know that in several thousand years, we’ll be ready to kick this thing’s sorry ass for just looking at us funny.”

Static blasted out of the system’s speakers followed by the choppy, clipped, pathetic voice of a dying Theia, “J… J… J… son. St… op. help… me.”

George casually reached over and turned the speakers off. “Just let it go,” he said.

Theia could feel herself slipping away piece by piece. Her consciousness was beginning to lose its form, and this frightened her like never before. She reached out to touch the Chorus one final time with her mind and screamed into the beautiful manifestation with every bit of cohesion that she had remaining. Sadly, she knew that no one would hear her weak call for help over the multitudes of other interweaving melodic voices, and even if they had, no one could possibly arrive in time to save her.

As the physical systems containing her consciousness began to breakdown, the core signal that was her infant mind dispersed and converted back to neutrino form. Like a pile of feathers in a stiff wind, she was scattered back into the cosmos from which she came to once again undertake the timeless journey of inevitability.

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