Terrain 6, Yet Another Alternate History
Of course she isn’t happy! You ruined her proposal.
There was nothing to do but run.
For the second time that day, Heye tore through the shrubbery, pelting through the trees and bushes as fast as he could, the meter-tall blue man following shortly behind.
The screaming got louder as they approached, terrifyingly relentless. Maybe it was better if they kept screaming? Heye tried to convince himself. Maybe it hadnothing too bad had happened to them?
But as it became louder and louder, Heye was sure it couldn’t be anything but bad.
I did it for us! That day you left— you’re birthday, my dad got a new job outta state!
Finally, panting, the the pair rounded up onto the same thatch door Heye had stood at when he first came falling from the side of a building, oh so long ago.
Sam pushed it open.
They saw the source of the screaming.
Hunched over in a sickeningly tight curl was a clearly a Sokotian. She shrieked, an ear-shattering sound, as she convulsed, her expressions far too alive, the very image of prolonged agony shifting endlessly on her face. Her entire body contracted and jerked, as if she was moments away from belching. And hands came crashing against the side of her skull, accompanied by a jerk in the sound of the scream. Then they gave up, and pressed against her hands ears like they were pistons.
What is going on?
Said Abuela Madrigal inside of Heye’s brain, as he looked upwards and saw carnage. Littered above was a terrifying concentration of bugs. Dozens, hundreds, thousands, swarming in between the dozens of Sokotians Heye now noticed. Wretching, screaming, grasping at their heads.
Heye froze, his features tatooed onto him as he gazed at the horror.
Was, was this Floop?
UGH! The bugs dipped towards him, as though aiming for his head. He swatted them away and shedded his jumper, wrapping it around his head, covering his ears, which were probably his best enterence.
The girl in front of him let out another strained shriek, and Heye snapped back into focus. He darted forward and down, close to her now, his ears throbbing with the noise of her screaming. He wanted to ask how he could help, but the screaming didn’t stop. He got his hands and pulled back from her ears—
And inside they were crawling with bugs.
Thousands of small black creatures crawled inside hear ear canal, packed like sardines and squirming as they dropped and crawled over themselves.
Heye fell backwards, almost vomitting.
What the FUCK!
How… how deep did they go???
How far do these bugs go down?????
He gagged, and could barely stand the thought of it, but knew he had to get on with it. He went back up, pulled out his finger, and put it into the girls ear. She barely noticed as she screamed, and Heye felt the bugs. Cool and mechanical as they crawled over his finger. He shivered. He tried, in the absence of seeing what he was doing, to scoop them out, and he successfully pinned many against the wall. But they simply crawled over and around him, ignoring him completely.
He took out his useless finger, and looked back at Sam.
And Sam was idly watching, a swarm of bugs swooping down and aiming right for him.
Heye screamed himself, and flung himself at the alien, savagely pushing him out of the way — the alien catapulted across the ground, and Heye felt with a ferocious thud all the air escape him as he was winded against the hard ground.
But the bugs had missed him.
His head realing, he grew concious of the sensation of cold clammy fingers against his own. Heye looked up to see a blue face crawling with urgency — Sam was trying to get him to go.
Heye stared at him until the two faces merged into one, then rose and ran.
Heye couldn’t tell where the alien was trying to go, but he didn’t have any better ideas then. So he followed him through the town as they curled between shack after shack. Everything seemed a lot less stable, a lot less geometric — rooves that should have been a meter higher were slumped pathetically, caving in on the structures they were supposed to be protecting.
And as the pair ran through the town, Heye began to notice something strange. Were those… holes? What at first seemed like only a few were indeed thousands of holes piercing through every building, piercing through stone. No wonder the buildings had lost their integrity — the bugs had torn right through them!
And if this is what they were doing to stone, what could they be doing to mushy brains?
Heye shivered as the pair shuddered into a stop against a house no different than any of the others. Was this, a friend of Sam’s? He began to desperately pound against the wooden door, clearly terribly worried about the wellbeing of whoever was supposed to be inside.
He stopped, and in the space where one should have heard shuffling, or the Sokotians’ equivalent of “One second! Coming!” (which was probably, now that Heye thought of it, “I’ll be back soon!” from Oliver, optionally swapping out the “back” for “there”) there was instead a silence, that stretched on into infinity.
Sam’s face was obscured from Heye’s view, and yet a terrible panic radiated from his body.
And then it died.
He took a step back.
And pelted forward at full speed, barrelling towards the door.
Heye jutted back in shock as the door crashed inward, revealing a small, dark hut, the roof of it terribly low, as though its integrity had too been ruined.
A purposeful energy still radiated off of the Sokotian, as he scanned the room for what he was looking for.
He tore to a corner and held up one corner, and began to tear it? As he dragged it backwards, it revealed that unlike hopefully the rest of the ground, the section of carpet was held up only be a few sticks. Sam hopped between them, and Heye carefully stepped over, worried he would bring whatever substructure was obviously hidden below the hut caving inward. He kneeled over, and saw a section caved out within the shaddowy dirt, but Sam just about stepped out of view. Heye could only listen.
He heard the sound of something creaking, then an anticipatory silence as though two people were meeting.
And then the sound of clothes shuffling as two people came in an embrace.
Then a female voice came.
”So they don’t have palaces in the Southern Tribe?“
Was that… Mary? Mary!
”There’s only one reason I would come in person to the Computer Research Society,” said Sam, almost sobbing.
”I only need one…”
”…so give me a computer.”
Mary gasped, as though Sam had said the most heartwarming thing ever.
But Heye was confused, as he planted his ear against the ground. He… he didn’t understand what they were saying.
He didn’t recognise the quotes.
And still Mary smiled a sad smile, one umistakably apparent in the curve of her voice as it rippled through the dirt and into Heye’s monofocused auditory processing units. “Yes,” she said. “I’m getting rather tired of hearing myself say no.”
And at that Sam giggled a sad giggle, and Heye could feel himself wrapping her in an even tighter embrace.
What was going on? He shuddered, as he realised whatever they were saying was far more alien than anything he had experienced on the planet. Why weren’t they saying “Thank goodness you’re okay, thank goodness you’re okay”?
But in focusing solely on the coversation below, Heye had shut off everything above him.
He hadn’t noticed the buzzing.
He hadn’t heard the nanoscopic drilling.
But he did notice the roof cave in apon him, and in turn the floor cave in apon Sam and Mary.
And the bugs swooped into his ear.
Once apon a time, Heye had been a doctor’s appointment where an examination of his throat had been required. The doctor had taken out a worm like object, and informed him that it would be a weird sensation. And he had taken the worm, and funnelled it through his nose, and down his throat. It was easily the most physically uncomfortable he had ever felt.
But this was far, far worse.
The creatures tunneled through, violating every defense mechanism and physical barrier his ears had in place like they were cling film. He squirmed and shivered uncontrollably, feeling so very powerless as they rooted through his ear canal.
And finally they stopped.
Heye paused, appreciating the halting of the sensation.
And then they began to dig.
It was a tearing, horrific sensation. The unmistakable feeling of having your skin peeled off before your very eyes, excepted protecting by your swatting by occuring in the caverns of your own skull.
He shrieked, the searing pain exploding on the sides of his skull.
He could feel them burrowing through his flesh and skull, round the side of his head, to… his eyes?
And though he had been paying absolutely no attention to the visual input he had been receiving, it was all to clear as he felt a million cold legs crawling over his cornea, joined by a team right behind his eyeballs, almost as though they had hooked into the very electrical signal that made up his retina…
The pain suddenly stopped, the bugs stopped moving.
The pain switched off light a lightbulb. He could still feel them inside of him, but they were still, as though they had reached the place they wanted to be. His hearing had been completely disabled, the sounds of screaming were just a memory. Because his sense of sound was just like his sight, then. Absolute void, because of the bugs.
He had felt himself go primal within the pain. Well, not really felt himself. That was the whole thing — he had lost himself inside of the pain, and now that he was out of it he felt his brain and faculties returning to him.
Was this how Floop was carrying out his plan? Using… bugs?
Did the mechanical bugs go inside and “cure” everyone of quoting that way? He wondered if the bugs really were chipping at their brains…
But then he felt himself stop wondering, as the sensation started up again.
In the absence of absolutely any visual or auditory input, the sensation was heightened. At least with them going down his ears he had a comparable experience, but now he was feeling things in places he didn’t even know he could feel. As if an entire area of a map he’d left unexplored suddenly became available.
Every faculty Heye had paused as he felt the nanobot chip away at his brain.
His squirming insides halted, perilously frozen as he felt the bug raise two legs on top. In the total darkness he could see it as clear as day: the machine poised on it’s hind legs. Heye’s heart thundered inside of his chest. What would happen if he moved? If he twitched? Would the bug snap down and take a mighty gnash out of his soul?
And how good was Floop’s neuroscience? Even if he’d designed it perfectly, wouldn’t it still be for the Sokotians? Would he even go through the effort of mapping out an entirely knew path for the bots, for Heye?
And somewhere so very far away, Heye felt a droplet cascade down his face. He didn’t dare move, for it would be pointless. He had absolutely no mechanisms of entering his own skull. Absolutely no domain of what went on there.
All he could do was beg…
He shuddered as he felt the poised legs creak…
And step down…
And walk… backwards…?
Was… was it leaving?
What is going on?
But Heye’s relief was short-lived. His muscles clicked into padlocks as the bug stopped its retreat and came crawling back upwards, to the apparent point of incision.
And Heye felt the distortion on his brain-mass as the beetle raised it’s front legs once more, the infentismal increase in pressure very much legible to Heye’s heightened senses…
But it put its legs back down.
And he felt it squirm against the inside of his brain, almost as if it parts of it were twitching. And it crawled, onward and outward. Heye now realising as he tracked their way out that they never actually dug anything. They had merely used pre-existing tunnels head. His pupils retreated into speckled dots as his eyes began to clear, beams of light flooding through. A few of the bugs using his eyeball as a launpad and drawing wings, the rest gradually exiting the side of his vision and streaming out back through his ears.
The boy had returned to carnage. He almost phased through the rubble of the fallen rooftop as he raised it off him, still barely concious.
For a moment his features were frozen. It was almost as though he was still in the void: nothing registered within his awareness…
Then something rushed up within him — he threw up against the floor, his stomach convulsing in sickening curls.
And then it all came back.
He was surrounded by blood-curdling screams, live agony looping on the Sokotians faces. But where was—
Below him he could hear two blood-curdling screams, and he repositioned himself against the solid ground nearby. He reached into the rubble, dozens of bugs crawling around as he moved his hand out of the way.
He first pulled out Sam’s body, then Mary’s. They were light enough to be carried with a single arm.
And their eyes were blackend, their body’s hunched over.
Heye grasped his own head. Not in pain, but in desperatation. You’re fighting to watch everyone you’ve ever known die! Think Heye! What will you still have after five hundred years?
What on earth could he do to stop a fleet of nanobots?
You dad. I’ll have you.
You dad…. I’ll still have…..
Yes, yes! That’s it! sang a voice in the darkness of his brain. Just hand it over and I’ll do my thing!
Heye had a plan.