The Super Wizard From Space #47

"The Red Hand Of General Dragutin, part 4" by

With a hand over my ear, I blindly fling x-ray signals
upwards. "Vaso! The situation's getting out of hand
down here!"

"I've no clear sight lines to your location, General!
Repeat, I have no shot!"

Looking up, I can't see the moon through the observatory
dome's slot anymore. Can't even see the *night sky* anymore.
Great roundish horrors crawl on the ceiling, on the walls.
Stripes of gold and black and flesh. Long spear-length
stingers, glints of wet toxin at the tips. Wide crystal
wings banging against torsos, making thrumming thunder. It's
a *blanket* of angry buzzing. Getting thicker as they crawl
over each other. At me. Looking to smother me. Kill me.
If I'm lucky.

Vaso's doing a piss poor job of keeping his panic out of his
broadcasts. "The enemy's piling on top of the building. On
top of the whole mountain. You've got to get out of there,
sir! There's *millions* of them!"

I hear a crumbling cracking. I'm certain its the structural
supports of the dome. The weight of them all is going to
bring the whole thing down on us! "Stay bright, solider. I'm
going to need suppressing fire."

"No one'sz coming!" Sybilla's wrath is so great that it's
distorting the honey-gel of her transmission. Its all jagged
and sharp, the constructed avatar can't keep up with her.
"When you need them, when you want them, when you beg for
szZomeone. Anyone! They don't come! You face it alone and it
crushesZZz you and they DON'T COME!"

Ignore her. There's no getting through to her like this.

I pull the shield in tight and raise its temperature. I
think hot fusion thoughts and bring the projected surface up
to a thousand kelvin. Some of the beasts are brave enough to
approach; they pay dearly for it. A couple stingers jabs at
the shield, but I pour on more heat to those spots, burning
away both the transformative toxin and its suicidal source.

But the stubborn animals, they ain't backing off! They keep
pushing against my shield, burning themselves up and using
the corpses as insulation to try again. They're all around
me, a squeezing ball of wrathful buzzing crazy! They're
either going to wear me down or they'll cool the shield down
enough for the stingers' poison.

I hold one hand up against the mass, throwing fire to keep
them from crushing me. I claw my other hand down at my feet,
grabbing the planet's magnetic field. The observatory's on a
mountain range, which means we got be on top of a couple
tectonic plates. I loop the field a couple times around my
wrist, make sure I've got a solid hold on it, and pull! Pull
at it with everything I have. Pull at the onerous, stubborn,
son of a bitch, come on COME ON!

The fault shifts. Its a shiver on the global scale,
but its enough.

The floor cracks and gets yanked out from under us. The
overwhelmed framework of the dome finally gives up. The
whole thing collapses with a rolling, deafening boom. The
bees that don't scatter in surprise get knocked aside. Or
are flattened by falling debris.

Steepling my hands above my head shapes my shield into a
pointed cone. A quick bend of the knees, a twist of the
waist, and I launch myself up. Up through the tumbling,
crashing bodies and concrete. Up, a spiraling bullet,
carving a way into the night sky.

As I climb into the atmosphere, all I can see under me is a
carpet of black and yellow. A shifting landscape of insect
horror, shifting and crawling on *every* surface in *every*
direction. Vaso wasn't exaggerating. They must've come
from *everywhere*.

Speaking of which. I look up at moon and re-establish
contact. "Vaso, come in. I'm clear of the building."

A pinpoint of light on the moon's surface acknowledges.
"Roger, General. I have eyes on you. Be aware, the swarm's
reorienting itself onto you." Below me, the mass of
creatures are building up. The top layer's untangling
themselves from the rest. Wings shimmer and blur. A lot
of them.

To hell with this. "Suppressing fire, Vaso."

The surface of the moon intensifies. It gets so bright that
I have to look away. The light bunches up in the sky, then
comes slamming down in a fast, flat wave.

It hits that landscape of bees like a thunderclap! The force
slams the ground, hard enough to bounce the creatures. I
hear cracking rocks and splintering trees.

Then the night dulls. The moon's almost disappears into the
blue black of the sky.

"Damn fine shot, solider!"  The swarm is instantly still.
Most'll be stunned, either from the blinding flash or the
hammer blow. Some might even be crippled. Can bees be
crippled? Do they just die if they're grievously injured?

"Eight minutes plus for light to reach Volsci, sir. Even
with whatever's reflecting up from the planet's surface, I
can't weaponize the moon again for at least twelve minutes.
You best retreat while you can, sir."

"Negative. Just keep reloading. Do what you can to cut that
time down." I've a feeling we're going to need it. "Have you
had a chance to map the surface."

"Just what I can see. One hemisphere."

"I'm looking for a canyon. Probably a big one. A major
geographical feature. Somewhere the bees could've set up a
base of operations." I hear his hesitation over the channel.
"This is a confirmed afterswarm, Vaso. They have a queen,
they've named her Sybilla. A day or two old, at most. We
*cannot* pass up this chance!"

I don't want to pull rank on him. I bully him, I lose his
respect, and we're too small a group for that. So I've got
to with trust. Trust that I know what I'm doing. I hope
I'm right.

At first, I get silence. Then I get coordinates.
Good solider.

I rocket through the atmosphere, fast enough for the air to
catch fire behind me. We got a small window of
opportunity here.

The canyon ain't hard to find. Its a massive fissure cut
into a red rocky landscape. Big enough to be visible from
space. And currently filled with waxy gold hexagons. A
geometrically efficient series vertical sheets, reaching
toward the sky. All this in two days? The size is... well,
definately impressive, but you can't miss all the rough
edges. Noo art to the construction. No guiding hand, no 
expression. Its formulaic. Instinctive. Predictable.

"Sit rep, Vaso."

"Two more minutes. Maybe one."

"Wait for my signal." The drones have noticed my precense. A
detachment is being organized... a really big one. Wow. How
many people were there on this damn planet? Or was the
original invasion force really that big?

I do my best to ignore them and study the structure of the
hive. They'd have salvaged *something* for the queen's
larva,  I'm certain. A house. Or a building. Or part of one.
They'd try to hide it, but they couldn't have built up
*that* fast. Where is it? Where...?

Ah! There! Where the individual cells look rougher and
smaller and quicker. The dull grey of concrete, buried in
the heart of the hive! I clap my hands in front of me and
form as large a plane as I can wield. Before the drones
figure out what I'm doing, I slash the plane down into the
canyon. Like a hot butcher knife, ti melts right through the
wax, reaching all the way to that building inside. Then I
spread my hands apart... prrryyyyiiing the hexagon
sheets apart...

Oh, they're *not* liking that! The hive empties a flood of
furious wings and caustic stingers at me. I dive into the
opening I've made, yanking back the planes to close them
into a red hot wedge of solar fire. Can barely see in front
of me! Just ram it, straight ahead!

Thumps of bodies. Buzzing cries. Fatty acids and fatty
acohols, collapsing around me. Burn them.  Push forward.

I hit the concrete wall with a pop. Rubble explodes, then a
hollow space... I'm inside! I cocoon the wedge around me and
signal out, "Now, Vaso! Target my position and fire!"

Everything goes blindingly white as Vaso weaponizes
the moon again.

I cover my ears as the thrown light smashes down around me.
The canyon walls echo the blast against the hive. Thousands
of hexagon cells flatten with the force, or catch fire from
the heat.

As everything dims, I find myself in what used to be some
sort of apartment building? A couple floors of it, at least.
Torn up and moved here whole. Everything's been demolished,
gathered in one direction. Honey and jelly coat every
surface, growing thicker down the only hallway.

Some of it sparks and bubbles up into a familiar female
shape. Quickly, desperately. "MonsZter! Demon! You're
killing them! You're killing everyone!" Sybilla's
half-formed simulacrum screams. At me. To me. Can't tell.
Don't care.

"I ain't here for them. I'm here for you. To talk to you.
Face to face." Spill fusion from my hand. Catch it in a
loop. Pull the arm back. Unravel the arc. Snap to send the
whip forward.

The honey-built avatar boils away in black steam.

As I advance down the hall, another pile builds up. "I know
you! They szaid which one you are! Told me the titlesZ given
you! Red hand! PromiSZZe breaker!" I snap the whip at that
one too, burning it away.

Marching down the hall. More building bubbles. More snaps of
the wrist. The smell of sugar on fire. "No more masks, no
more hiding," I call out at her. A banshee wail comes from
the end of the hall. Furious and frightened.

Eventually, I come into someone's living quarters. Small.
Civilian. Humble. Probably hers. The swarm might've used its
familiarity to calm her. Now it's covered in wax and honey,
stinking of sweets and sweat and paper-mache. In the middle
is a mass of monster bees, all a tight ball. They're... oh!
They're trying to smother her! Can't risk the whip! Rolling
the fusion loops around my hands, I raise their temperatures
as high as I dare and just start yanking the creatures away.
They cry in vibrating bass as I pull them off. Crystal
membrane wings catch flames. Dozen of legs pulled off. All
but two ignite and die under my touch. And the whole time,
they ignore me, instead directing their wrath inward. Into
the ball. Kicking and scrapping and clawing and beating at
the center. Trying to kill the small woman inside.

Or what... what used to be a woman. The *thing* they've made
her into is three times larger than what her original size
could have been. Most of it's made up of massive black
abdomen. Plates of carapace covering the back, narrowing up
into a jagged spine with way too many bones. The abdomen
melds into her waist with that onyx color staining the rest
of her skin. Like a dark rash over other dark rashes. Her
legs are larger and stronger and are more like a beetle's
than anything else. Arms are bent and long and end in almost
humanoid hands. And her head looks half crushed in a
malformed jaw that's acting as her neck.

The whole thing's terrifying and sick. I've never seen a
queen bee in the flesh before. I could go on with the rest
of my life without ever seeing another.

Sybilla covers her face. Shakes her head. Scurries backward,
into the darker corners of the room. This is...! Urrh!
Frustration's sweating out of me as visible light. I grab
her arms, drag her back out of the shadows. "No more
hiding!. *Look* at yourself! Look at what's happened here."

She tries to pull away. But she doesn't try very hard.
"Thisz isz your fault. You weren't there when we
needed you!"

"*I* didn't do this! I didn't kill your planet. I didn't
turn everyone you knew into terrors. And I didn't turn you
into a *freak*. They did that! They did that to *you*!"

"No. No no no, that'sz not... they're my..." Sybilla looks
at the twitching pair. "I'm their queen. They love me."

"You're their *hostage*. They *hate* you, and they hate
*needing* you." I let her go and point at the surviving
bees. "Go ahead, ask them about the name they gave you.
Ask them who 'Sybilla' is. Ask them what you're *for*."

She looks at them with terrified disbelief. Nothing's said
out loud, but she's getting a lot out of them. There's a...
connection the whole colony shares. Each individual
creature's a piece of a bigger brain. They can work
together, but its all base animal impulses unless they've
got something to focus it all. That's what their queens are.
Royalty and reason. Leaders and lobes. They turn these
dangerous animals into malevolent empires.

But animals don't know what makes a 'good leader'. They
wouldn't yet *know* what they *need* to know. So they make
something to gain that mental capacity, to make that
decision. And like animals, they pick something small and
weak and helpless and easily bullied.

Its a patch job. A temporary queen. Something to throw away
when they find something better.

And they always name them 'Sybilla'.

She flinches back from the bees as she absorbs...
everything, I guess. She turns to stare at me, all quiet and
slow and pathetic, "I'm... what? A szurrogate? A sztopgate?
Until they don't want me? They're going to kill me?" She
looks back to the pair, hands curled into fists. "You're
going to KILL me? Why? Why? Why keep me and then lie to me?
Why szave me and then depiSZe me szo much? You sZaid you
loved me! You sZZaid you needed me!"

"It's what they do. They're running on instinct."

"They're monsZterSZ! All monsZZterSZZ!" Oh! She starts
*beating* them! No finesse to it, just hot emotion. The bees
are too injured to defend themselves. There's wet cracking
sounds. Her hands turn crimson with blood and bits. "You're
monsZtersZ! And you *made* me a monszter!"

The others behind me. More of the swarm, finally making it
into the structure. They're not moving. They don't enter the
room. They're *scared*.

When Sybilla's anger's finally expended, she slumps on the
bodies. She sobs and hugs the corpse directly
underneath her.

Okay. Okay, now, here, I either say exactly the right thing
exactly the right way... or I get torn apart. In retrospect,
Vaso might've been right about this. Swallow. Clear throat.
"This'll be hard to accept right now, but I'm not your
enemy." Her eyes peel open and *glare* at me. "This doesn't
have to be the end. Not this. Not like this. There's a way
to help you. There's a way to *fix* this, I promise you...

"But you're going to have to help me."

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Wil Alambre, follow me at http://twitter.com/wilalambre