Box of Dreams

blue and gold fans of frost on glass

She’s back in the warehouse. She knows, feeling cold, what to expect.

Another bad dream.

Dance’s dreams of bugs, of people being dropped like so many slack sacks of potatoes into boxes with green sides, larger than coffin-sized boxes, my God, in lab buildings that extend for hundreds of feet, every square inch full of green boxes–

She’s seen the bugs who didn’t come out of those boxes. Sarcoboxes. She’s heard Drin say the same things, trying to articulate what he’s seen.

Emma told them both, rather sharply, that the sarcoboxes were not just designed for the implantation of bug parts in people. From somewhere, she knows it can be a lab cradle to develop a fragile zoomorphic fetus, a cocoon to let a bug part go through a pupation period before it’s attached to a screaming person, or a storage locker that uses cryogenic methods to keep something very dangerous locked up safely between limited uses.

Very limited uses.

In her dreams, she looks down into a frost-clouded box, and sees Dance. In her dreams, she stands there, shaking with rage, looking down at the one who went into that box still awake.

This is not a bug.

This is not a human being, either, or so they claim.

It’s possible they’re right, in spite of how human he looks. No human would be able to resist those drugs.

This one had enough of a mind to fight back. The body is contorted in the webbing he’s twisted round him. He shouldn’t have been able to fight that long and that late. His head is the only thing that’s where it should be, held securely by the callipers, while his neck and body twist and angle. If he were conscious, he’d be in agony. One hand is loose from its loop and pressed against the wall of the box; the other is balled into a fist. The strap that should secure his shoulders is missing entirely, the sideclamps biting down on nothing. The creature is incredibly beautiful, and she curses the General, who didn’t warn her of that.

The other boxes nearby have bodies like Dance’s, but they are pale, and they are thinner, they clearly weigh far less than he does. They are not twisted impossibly around. They are not strapped and locked up and barred in like that, and their boxes are plumbed with much lighter equipment. That flimsy gear hasn’t lasted as well.

vertical pattern, wavy glass
Frozen in Place

The stink, my God, the stink is not just of cadaverin. That’s bad enough, plenty of explanation for the gas mask she must wear, and so must the other people around her, taking notes and speaking quietly into their mikes what they find, recording measurements of what used to be there. You see pictures like this from the disinterment of mass graves.

But nobody’s going to open this lid. They’re not even going to check if he’s alive. They won’t tell her anything. There’s heavy new locks and straps on that box, there’s symbols that mean shooting won’t stop him, when he’s the most naked, unarmored thing in the place.

They won’t tell her what’s next, but she knows. With those symbols, they’re certainly not going to thaw him out to see what damage he’s taken. No, a licensed mercyman will deal with all that, late, after all the forensic people have left.

Her dream self is shaking with fury because it’s all so stupid, locking the barn door after the monster has disappeared into the woods–because there were two.

The other one’s gone.

The other box next to him has a pried-up lid, a wrecked cradle of precisely the same shape–some other creature marked in the same secret series as he is. And it’s gone. Vanished. Somebody took it away, there’s no records, there’s no tracks. Nothing among the files to warn her there ‘d be two boxes here. She’ll have to leave the wrecked box with its damning labels, careless scattered evidence, there’s no time to get rid of it.

Whoever stashed these hundreds of sarco-illegal treasures are tied tightly to people who aren’t good with their pets. That other one is out there somewhere, running loose, and in the hands of such people, he’s probably going quite mad. She knows all about those sort of people.

Wojo thought he got the first one safely out. He laughed. “Shows what depending on old intel will do for you, stuck in a cancer ward trying to save the lives of your people when you can’t even save your own damn self.”

“Shipment got hijacked by the trade,” Wojok told her, and coughed. “Fuck, well, we got one more chance, girl! Get over there, see if they found the other one stashed somewhere back in that warehouse they’re still cleaning, see if that other box is still intact.”

Emma had been angry–coldly, icily angry–on so many fronts that she didn’t even give him any of her disagreeable lip. She didn’t argue, because that would have made him happy.

She just went.

She was furious that he didn’t tell her about the first one in time to get him better contacts, to use some people that they could still trust. No, he handed it off to people who hadn’t been with the program for six months, and to make it worse, he said he took the money they offered to pay for the transport. God knows what he did with that, he just laughed that horrible laugh of his.

Hell, at least, trust her to get it out of there in the first place, if she had to wheel it round on a dolly by herself!

And she’d been even more furious that he’d sound so casual about it.

Wojo’s right about one thing.

They’re all genuinely afraid of this thing that didn’t go into the box quietly. So if the stolen one does go as berserk as those locks and chains on the sarcobox say it is feared for, then its genetic twin, in here, may be the only thing really capable of stopping it.

And the damn fools here want to wipe out this fighter in its sleep, pretend it never existed. There will be no embarrassing artifacts left to disgrace the good record of the military program. Only the black marketeers to blame here. Nothing to see, move along.

Emma looks into the records ranked in her bones, finds the little files that detail this naga’s creation and his single mission, and its conclusion.

Emma’s dream self hears her heels slam stacatto clatter down the hall to her station. Her fingers fly over the keyboard, and files change their shapes under her fingers. It’s like rescuing an abandoned dog, except that she’s going to rescue herself at the same time. The general’s orders.

Old uncle Wojo is dying on that hospital bed, with the stench of his cigars still sticking to his skin, and the parts of his face that haven’t turned into squamous cells, as grey as their ashes.

In her head, his voice is still the smoker’s rasp that he can’t even manage now. “Shift your ass Watson, you got places to go, people to do, heh heh heh.”

That fat bastard who took her out of the ranks and told her to let them lace nanocarbon fibers all through her bone marrow. “You got the two things I need, intelligence and stupidity,” he’d said, and ‘stupidity’ was always his slang for ‘loyalty.’

She agreed to turn herself into a memory bank in the military service. Now the bastards are going to see the fruit of that vine.

Emma watches her dreamself, brittle as glass, set up the transport of the sarcobox down a tunnel that only exists in theory.

It’s an apparently random little robot cleaner who trundles up the corridor and slaps a sealed by order of the base commander strip of sticky across the door of her current command chamber, effectively locking it shut behind her.

She sends directives for the disposition of the remaining Black Ops Naga with rapid flicks of her fingertips against the keyboard. A freight robot forks up the chained sarcobox, and the people with the measuring tools simply glance at the usual mercyman’s code on the front. Of course that’s where it’s going. Until it turns right in the main robot concourse inside the secure compound, and heads for a little-known freight elevator, instead of left to the morgue offices.

If it was her, and if she was that worried about transport of something that dangerous, she’d have been kneeling in her fancy dress clothes on the box, riding right along with it. But then, she’s worked for Wojo a few too many years to take those things for granted.

She’s astonished to find the Naga’s future records are slotted up in place, ready to drop into, already planned for just like an emergency parachute, as per emergency specs, but she frowns.

A few quick clicks of the keys, and she sighs. They weren’t done to her specs, that’s for sure. Too pretty, too suspiciously clean, done by somebody who doesn’t deal with smudgy real estate grant deeds on a regular basis. But they’ll have to do.

The life memories are waiting to be poured into his coma-emptied mind, by one of those horrors that the military doesn’t even acknowledge– some kind of AI in human form, maybe.

She understands it takes about half an hour, that process, although nobody will say much about it.

That task done, she takes a short walk, to a box of her own where she’ll undergo a similar oblivion.

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6 thoughts on “Box of Dreams”

  1.  Yes, of course it had to be a human being doing those repros.  A retcon specialist.  (I know one of these guys, long fingers, cheery smile, could talk you out of your 401K.)  Soft, soft tech, so soft: so human.

  2. One who decided to get out at the same time, too:  Teslamomma is one of the people Emma is friends with later, sends emails to, and sends along emails to Eric’s operatorives, saying she goes over to Emma’s house and visits with the boys sometimes.  It’s anybody’s guess whether she remembers doing the memories on all three of them.

    I’d say she and Preacher could have some very interesting convo, except I bet they don’t talk at all.  Style differences, probably.  Teslamomma isn’t working on rescuing bug people like Preacher does, as far as anybody knows.

    Happened to walk by one of the street testifiers who’s a regular, couple days ago when I was thinking about Preacher and his philosophy.

    From the time I came into earshot, he was shouting about everything was made by God, there ain’t nothing outside of God, there is no person and no thing left out of the presence of God, we are all of us children of God, and we should be respectful of that voice in other people too.

    Let’s just say I don’t share his other views, as vented on other occasions, but we could agree that this point of view causes you to treat people differently.

    It’s quite striking when your outsides start talking to your insides, I must say.

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