Cargo Serial, Episode 1
A science fantasy serial.
“Where’s my face!” Rebecca stared at the mirror in utter shock. What looked back at her seemed to have her feminine form, but that’s where similarities ended. Her face was now a solid, black, mass. Smooth and featureless. Like armor. Almost like So’rn’s Chaser helmet. In place of her hair, her head was adorned with what looked like black, metallic cables. Animated black metallic cables. Like dreadlocks from hell. “My hair!”
“Vestigial features have been replaced…”
“Bob!” Rebecca started shaking. “Please tell me this is just armor. Like you said, right? You’re my armor? I still feel my face. But it’s not there!” She put her hands on her face, trying to feel features that she just knew were there but no longer existed.
“You will feel it for some time while your nervous system adjusts…”
“I’m not adjusting to anything!” Rebecca took a step back and looked at her arms. They were likewise a shiny black material, covered with what appeared to be animated strips of black fabric. A loose cloak floated around her, oblivious of any gravity and apparently alive. “Please tell me this is just armor. Please!” Rebecca cried, shaking her head. She knew the answer already. The lack of a response from Bob struck home, and she broke down in sheer panic.
Her horrified wails filled the ship as she grabbed at her face, trying to remove the armor. She plucked at her armored arms, trying to rip off the living fabric, but the strips would vaporize and coalesce wherever she grabbed. She looked down at her feminine torso that was covered by the same armor and tried in futility to pull it off. When she touched the armor, it felt like she was touching her own skin, and the horror of it deepened. “No no no! Why are you doing this!?”
“You are a Pilot.”
“Bob, I am Rebecca! That… thing,” she pointed angrily at the mirror, “that monstrosity, that’s not me!” She looked around and spotted So’rn standing in a corner nervously, still wearing his armor. “He’s scared of me now! A Camdyn! They’re like, wolfmen super-warriors, and he’s scared of me!”
“Please realize that this is for our survival. This is the nature of a Pilot.”
“I want my nature. Bob, please!” Rebecca shook her head, no longer able to look in the mirror. “I’m gone. I’m not me anymore.”
“No, you are not. You are us. Pilot and Drone.”
“Well, I didn’t ask for it!” Rebecca turned around in a circle, holding her arms out. “I am just a nerd working on her PhD thesis.” She sat down on the floor, crying. Only then did she realize she had no tears. She couldn’t even cry correctly anymore. “Why are you doing this to me?”
So’rn knelt down beside her. “I have no idea if you are talking to me or someone else.”
“Oh, So’rn. I am so sorry. I tried to save you. Now look at me.”
“Your attempt is appreciated.” So’rn sat down beside her. “It could not breach my armor, however.” He tentatively grabbed her hand. “It really is you.”
“Yeah, and that thing that attacked you? It’s part of me now.” Rebecca sniffed, then realized she couldn’t even sniff correctly. Layers and layers of consternation. She slumped, dejected. “What am I going to do?”
“My scanner is showing a tight integration. I don’t think it can be safely removed.” He patted her hand. “Maybe a Gatekeeper can remove it.”
Rebecca shook her head, not willing to hope. “I was going to bring home a doctorate. I wanted to bring this back to the university.” She waved her hand around her. “The Cooperative universe and an expanded comprehension of physics.”
“You have apparently become part of that universe,” So’rn said quietly. “I don’t understand. Is it sentient?”
Both of them spun around, then gaped. So’rn got to his feet defensively, ready for combat. Rebecca glanced at him, then stood up. “I thought you were a guy.”
The figure before them was decidedly feminine. A glossy black, smooth-skinned version of what Rebecca herself was supposed to be. “We have no gender. We typically mimic our hosts.”
“Hmm, Bobbi?” Rebecca mused, walking over to the figure. “So, you’re not just inside me?”
“Our field of influence extends… far.” Bobbi smiled amicably.
“Don’t do that. Smile. I can’t. Why should you?” Rebecca pointed angrily.
“I cannot be killed,” Bobbi said. “You can. Your form was so incredibly delicate.”
“I’m supposed to be delicate!” Rebecca glanced at the mirror, then shuddered. “I want me back. Please!”
“Who is ever going to love that?” Rebecca jabbed her finger at the mirror. “Mom? Dad? Oh my god, Meemaw? She’ll never understand! Even So’rn over there is scared of me.”
Bobbi circled Rebecca, then glanced at a nervous So’rn. “He would have been a preferable Pilot. However, the Malakim has inexplicably assigned me to you.”
“He didn’t say strip me of my humanity! Brian thought I was cute! He loved my hair!” Rebecca grew furious. “I need me. I need to be able to smile. To cry. I mean, how do I even eat?”
“You don’t require sustenance anymore.”
Rebecca just stared at Bobbi, hugging herself and feeling utterly violated.
“Are all other… Pilots like this?” So’rn asked.
“I may not look it, but I like food! I love food!” Rebecca sat back on the floor hard, weeping. “And hair. And… skin.”
Bobbi glanced at Rebecca, then turned to face So’rn. “Such an interesting pairing. She sees you as family. You know that, right? A peculiar companionship.”
“My question.” So’rn persisted.
“Yes. The adaptions are necessary to integrate properly with their Drones and our purpose.”
“Are they like this all the time?”
Rebecca perked up. “When your other Pilot was in my head, he appeared like any human.”
“That appearance was for your benefit and not an accurate depiction of what my former Pilot looked like. His morphology was similar to yours now.”
Rebecca slumped. “But now he is free from you. Did he revert?”
“When a Pilot and Drone are separated, the Pilot does not survive.”
Rebecca looked up at Bobbi sharply. “You mean, he, he, he died? Because of me?”
Bobbi didn’t respond.
Standing up, Rebecca faced Bobbi. “Because of me?”
Her Drone remained silent.
“Oh, that’s just great! Great! Not only do I lose my humanity, I kill someone too?” Rebecca threw her arms up then paced, frantic. “I’m just a nerd on a joyride. Just a nerd…”
“Who a Malakim has taken an interest in,” Bobbi said. “You are not just anything. You should not be alive. But he wills it.”
“It’s Brian! My physics professor! He’s just a regular guy!” Rebecca couldn’t quell the growing doubts. “He loved to come over for dinner. He… endorsed my thesis.” She got quiet, looking at the floor. “He helped fund my observatory here.” Surely he had not manipulated her into this trip. “I wanted to come.”
“Your observatory saved your lives. It prevented me from targeting the living quarters of this vessel.” Bobbi said carefully.
Rebecca gaped at him. “You sent the asteroid to kill us? I thought y’all missed on purpose.”
“I am the ‘asteroid’ sent to kill you.” Bobbi circled Rebecca.
“You? That gigantic rock thing? Like, a half mile across?” Rebecca was dumbfounded.
“It is gone,” So’rn interjected.
“Like I said, my sphere of influence extends far,” Bobbi said, matter-of-factly, glancing at So’rn. “You will find that matter is not an absolute.”
“Absolute? You are inside little ol’ me. And were that gigantic asteroid?”
“Oh, my thesis is getting more ridiculous by the moment. They’re going to laugh at me. Like I wrote some cheap science fiction novel.” Rebecca leaned against the stasis pod as she pondered the new physics being presented to her. “The math alone is going to be almost impossible.”
The floor suddenly shifted and Rebecca watched So’rn slam into the wall with a thunderous thud. She remained unaffected. “Oh, for… What now?”
“The others are moving the ship.”
“Our intention was to gather intelligence, then destroy this vessel,” Bobbi said.
“But, you’re here. In me.” Rebecca helped So’rn off the wall. “You okay?” So’rn nodded. He was still struggling against the inertial force that was not affecting her. “You guys were all apologetic about having to kill me. But now you’re going to do it anyway?”
“We were distressed that you were conscious of your demise and aware of us as its cause. Had you not been aware of us, you would have died in blissful ignorance.”
“Blissful. Sure.” Rebecca waved a hand. “Because, we’d just die all happy and everything. Do you even listen to yourself?”
“Our trajectory has shifted toward the gravatar,” So’rn said.
“The black hole?” Rebecca looked at Bobbi. “You’re just going to dispose of us in the black hole?”
“It is not a hole…”
Rebecca held up a hand. “Semantics. Please tell me you’re in contact with them. Tell them we’re friendly.”
“I have never lost contact with them.”
Rebecca almost let go of So’rn. “You. You’re doing this!”
“We are doing this. We cannot allow evidence of our existence to be exposed to the Cursed One.”
“I’m your Pilot now! You’re supposed to keep me alive!”
“Indeed. You will not be affected.”
“It’s a black hole!” Rebecca waved her arms, then grabbed So’rn again.
“Rebecca, where do you think the Drones originated?”