The story so far:
“Phys says I’m about seventy-two percent mechanical now.” Thomas sat near her. She was sitting up now, able to better see her surroundings. She still couldn’t move. Not even her neck obeyed her. Only her eyes and her mouth and her fingers. Most of her fingers.
After Thomas’ revelation the day before, Phys joined them, admonishing both Marshal and Thomas for what he called “Too early revelation.” He then gave her the medicine for her to sleep again.
As she slept, her dreams took on a new element. In them, she saw the cyborg bear, not towering over her. She saw it as it had became the machine and not the bear. She saw the Mongerers, saw the tiny oci-limbed creatures as they changed flesh to metal. She saw them take its eyes and take its claws and replace them with their own technology.
Renni had struggled to wake from her nightmare, knowing in her heart it was her mind putting together the pieces. When she woke to a cold morning, fearing she was alone, she had called out Thomas’ name. He was there waiting for her.
“Tell me what happened to you,” she said, breaking the long silence.
Thomas reached for her hand again. She felt the human flesh against her flesh. Angling her eyes, she tried to see more of him. She saw little.
“When I saw your jeep crash behind us, I wanted to go back. Phys did too. But the soldiers kept going. They drove us into an ambush.” He gripped her hand all the tighter.
“We were captured. They killed one of the soldiers. The other, Phys, and myself, we were taken away, put into these cages. They didn’t take us to the ships. Instead, they took us to a camp of sorts, like a concentration camp from World War II. We were herded together with other humans they’d captured.
“For days we stayed in those cages. Several people committed suicide. Some tried to kill Phys, thinking he could have saved them but didn’t. Phys had been injured when we were captured. Even so, he couldn’t have saved us, even if he wanted to. Phys is a healer, not a soldier.” Thomas sighed heavily.
“How long were you in the cages?”
“A couple of weeks, maybe. It wasn’t long.”
“Then what happened?”
“The real purpose of the Mongerers came out. Remember those broadcasts about how the Mongerers had left a weapon?”
“Yeah. It was supposed to be some world ender. But I figured they turned it off when they came back.”
“It wasn’t a world ender.”
“The Harbingers were wrong?”
“Yes. But it wasn’t their fault. Mongerers, they are warriors. If they see a world that has technology and the forces to perhaps defeat them, they destroy it before it ever gets the chance. The Harbingers thought that they would do that with us. But the Mongerers didn’t see us as a threat. They saw us as weak, as tools. The worlds they don’t destroy, they conquer. They’re always on the look out for more soldiers to fight their wars.
“The Harbingers don’t fight the Mongerers. They are messengers. They warn worlds. They knew we didn’t have the technology to save ourselves so they came to save us. Usually, they warn the advanced worlds, offering assistance if necessary. This is the first time they’ve been so involved.”
Renni stared out at the stark room, looking at the white walls in front of her. She dared not look down. Not that it mattered whether she did. Thomas had covered her with a thick, warm blanket before sitting next to her. He adjusted the blanket as she let his words sink in. She thought about the fireflies and the bear, how their bodies had been a mix of flesh and machinery. She thought of the tiny creature crushed by Marshal when she’d fought the fireflies that first night. It seemed so very long ago.
“You said they were always searching for more soldiers,” she said, a slight quaver in her voice. “Seven billion soldiers would add to any army, wouldn’t it.”
“They wanted to enslave us, didn’t they?”
“They tried to enslave you?”
“Tell me about it, if you can.”
“They took several of us. I…” he paused.
“It’s alright, Thomas. You don’t have to talk about it.”
“No, you need to know. You need to understand. I didn’t look like this after. Their machinery is far cruder than the Harbinger’s. They tried to enhance us. We were the lab rats, you know, trial and error. Several died. They tried using their bodies. But somehow, they need the mind intact. I don’t know why.
“I remember the screams the most. Much of that time is a blur. Phys says I’ve blocked out a great portion of it from my memory. I remember pain. I remember one of the Mongerers near me. The real Mongerer, not one of its shells. I could hear it. But it wasn’t like hearing. I don’t really know how to describe it. It was as if we were one mind, joined in a way. I saw what it saw, heard what it heard, thought what it thought. For a while, it controlled both our consciousnesses.
“I, my body, did many terrible things during that time, Renni. I was made into one of their researchers. We… we destroyed so many lives. I didn’t learn until later that I could still fight. I still had my will. They hadn’t broken it. I could fight the Mongerer controlling me. And I did.
“I managed to free Phys. We escaped. But the machinery began to fail. I was dying. We survived for a while in one of the suburbs surrounding the city. Then Marshal came. He took us in his ship and brought us here. I was pretty far gone by then.
“Phys did what he could for me. He replaced my Mongerer parts with Harbinger technology. The Harbingers are far more medically advanced than the Mongerers. Phys managed to save me, sort of. On a normal person, the Harbinger units can rejuvenate dead tissues. On some subjects they can even regrow limbs. Not with me though. I am as I will be for as long as I live. Phys still has hope. I’ve pretty much used up all my hope.”