Fungal Halo

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Reverse Engineering

The thing about being in a hacker collective is that a lot of us get really competitive, but we still cooperate to elevate the whole group, you know?

It’s in the spirit of both sides of that dichotomy that I’ve decided to try to crack one of those DroneCorp units open.

First of all, imagine being a member of the group that finally figured out how to fuck with the most notoriously secretive corp out there. Then imagine being the one that made it happen.

That’s a lot of prestige on the line, and I’m a very proud woman!

Yeah, the official company line is that these are (or were?) people, ones who volunteered to give up their humanity, their free will, and all that. The company supposedly has some nanite secret sauce that connects human biology to computers.

What absolute bullshit.

None of it adds up. Who’d give up their individuality willingly? A couple freaks here and there, sure, but nowhere near the number of drones they’ve sold.

No, there’s definitely something else going on, and I have my suspicions about what it might be.

You see, I noticed something. These glossy black bodies don’t actually show the same variation in size and build that people do. There’s a discrete number of variations like you’d expect from something mass-produced to appear highly variable. These things must be mechanical.

They recruit some people, make them sign some ruthless NDAs, and then set them to work piloting several dozen drones each, almost certainly with some kind of machine learning algorithm keeping them from having to be too hands-on. Then they market them as perfect workers. Pfft.

That’s why I’ve lured this one into my cozy little Faraday shielded room, trussed it up, and prepared my tools (and my camera) for its disassembly.

It’ll be so much fun showing people just what these things really are, and even more so when we make them dance to our commands.

I’m glad it’s as passive under these circumstances as it is. No weird protective protocols, apparently, to worry about. Maybe they never planned for this, and with me blocking any radio signals inside here, there’s no way to issue new instructions.

Now how to crack it open?

Nothing obvious, so I take a hammer and a little wedge and shatter the front panel on its helmet, and…

What the fuck what the fuck is that what the fuck that’s not a person that’s not a machine what is that smell I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t—

It’s some giant fucking bug or something inside a human suit, and the stench of it sends me into a coughing, heaving fit. The room tips sideways. I scramble and flail and can’t get my legs under me.

It’s getting closer. How did it break free? What is it going to—

It’s on top of me. The stench is overwhelming. I don’t know which set of eyes I’m supposed to be staring at, but they’re all awful, and it’s dripping some horrible goo from its—are those supposed to be mouth parts?—and that’s definitely not human skin on its face.

It leans closer, closer. One of the weird, tiny limbs near its mouth-like thing touches my cheek, and I try to pull away, and then it presses its face onto mine.

Something rigid and slimy wedges itself between my lips, forcing its way into my mouth.

I can taste the goo, and it’s a sickeningly sweet version of the concentrated stench of this thing. It numbs the tongue. I think it’s doing something to my gag reflex, too. The retching is gone, and I can’t throw up the stuff sliding down my throat no matter how I want to.

My gulping is reflexive, an instinct to avoid choking on the slime this monster kisses into my mouth.

God, it really is a kiss, isn’t it? Whatever else it’s doing.

My stomach fills with a radiating warmth, and at least that part isn’t altogether unpleasant.

I feel strange, light-headed. Time passes in a confusing, dream-like blur of events that flicker and smear together.

The kiss. An open door. More drones here. A hood for my friend—who?—and a car parked right outside. Arms wrap around me, holding me on its lap.

I try to lift my head to get my bearings, and that mouth is on mine again. I drink the slime from it like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

“Please, please,” I either think or speak aloud. I’m not sure which, and I’m not even sure what I’m begging for.

Time gets away from me again.

I’m carried. There’s a building. Lights. Hallways. An elevator. I’m underground? Silence broken by the scuttling of crawling things and a distant chitter. A massive chamber. Something huge, with too many eyes. Bulbous sacs.

I’m not quite lucid, but it feels like kindness when they set me down on some organic structure with pleasant give, even when I see how it grows itself around my legs and arms to hold me in place.

There are so many bug people like the drone I opened, and they’re everywhere.

I watch some of them help my drone free of its humanoid shell. It suddenly seems astonishing that it was able to fit its extra limbs and its wings inside that.

I can’t believe what I tried to do. I can’t believe these things have been everywhere this whole time.

It stretches its insectoid arms and legs and the other limbs—I don’t know what to call them—and the wings too. It’s frighteningly large now that I can see it more completely, but my head is still too foggy to feel more than a faint unease at the edges of my mind.

It’s beautiful, somehow. It inspires a longing inside me that my rational mind can’t grasp, can’t wrap in language to render it comprehensible.

Yet when it approaches to kiss me full of its secretions one more time, my lips part for it with an eagerness that surprises me.

Events melt into a pleasing blur once more.

They seem to treat me like a pet or, perhaps, a child. The frequency with which they check on me feels like doting. Whenever I hunger, they press sweet jellies into my mouth with their gentle, chitinous digits.

I forget what lucidity feels like. My head hasn’t felt normal in—I try to estimate how long I’ve been here, but time slips through my fingers like the slimes they bathe me in—however long. But it doesn’t feel like it matters. There’s no fear, only a pleasant buzz in my head.

I occasionally parse snippets of ideas, as though pulling them from the air around me. “Hive” and “queen” are frequent, imbued with sensations of comfort, familiarity, companionship.

But there are those that are more frequently directed toward me, too. “Experimental” and “almost-human.” References to a “breeding program” and “new pheromones.” There is excitement in the air when they visit me. It’s infectious, and I can’t help but share it.

It slowly comes into focus as time goes on. Eventually I feel confident enough in that connection to the hivemind to send my thanks to the drone who saved me and brought me here.

I grin at the burst of excited buzzing my message inspires in the Hive.

I know what I am now: a new kind of infiltrator. I have a body externally indistinguishable from a human’s, but I am a member of the Hive, and our Queen has an important role for me.

They return me to the house of the person I used to be. On the way back, I marvel at how many of us there are in this city. I can look at any building and feel the drones inside, welcomed blindly with open arms to help run their machines of profit.

We’re so close.

I connect to the human network, that desperately limited approximation of the hivemind’s internal connection, and I send a message to the hacker collective.

“Hey, I’m alive, everyone. DroneCorp got me, though.” Frowny face. Enter.

I wait for them to respond before continuing, “No, but their lawyers are scary as fuck. Made me sign the kind of NDAs that’d make you piss your pants. Even I’m freaked out.”

Predictable responses. “Fuck off, phpf. No cops involved yet, vi. Eat my whole dick, fallen.”

It’s so hard to remember why this kind of shallow hostility ever felt necessary, but I have to wear the mask.

“Any of you assholes wanna KNOW what I found, or would you rather get more dunks in?”

That gets their attention.

“Not here. I know at least phpf logs everything, and if they got me, I don’t trust ANY OF YOUR security either. If you want the dump, we’re doing sneakernet. Who’s in?”

They’re all in, naturally.

And I’ll be ready to introduce them to my new family.