I squeeze the trigger, and the thing that was once my best friend drops dead.
I take a moment to kneel beside it. These helmets aren’t made to be removed, so I improvise a hole in the front with the butt of my gun.
Yeah. That’s her face. All plugged in.
I had to be sure it was really her, but seeing the face really drives it home.
She—it, I remind myself—had told me such terrifying plans its hive had for me.
It was going to take me. I had no say in the matter. There was nothing I could do but defend yourself, right?
Besides, it wasn’t even her anymore. Just a drone for that damned hive.
Even if it did say that it wanted to capture me, specifically, because it missed me.
It was a trick. It had to be. My friend would never have given up all her ambitions to be a mindless servant.
Tears flood my eyes. My chest tightens with grief. Either way, she’s gone now.
But I’m given precious little time for mourning before another drone enters the room, moving toward me with those menacingly precise strides.
I raise my gun. I fire again. This one also falls.
The ringing in my ears has no time to fade before I spot yet another faceless figure in the doorway.
This time my first shot flies off target, striking it in the shoulder. It continues its advance. Nervously, I fire again. It drops, but it still crawls toward me with one arm.
In a panic, I empty everything I have left into it, and—mercifully—it stops moving.
“You always were a survivor, Elle.”
I whirl around, looking up into the mask of the largest drone yet, this one speaking in my dead friend’s voice.
“Hell no, don’t pretend she isn’t dead!”
“I am not dead, Elle. It takes more than the destruction of a body to destroy a member of the hive.”
Her shiny black hand caresses my cheek.
“For sentimental reasons, I chose to approach in the body I once exclusively inhabited, but all bodies belong to all of us.”
It—she?—grips my wrist in a way that forces me to drop the empty pistol, and then she lifts me effortlessly off the ground, dangling me by one arm to look me face to faceplate.
“That’s why we must have you. The whole hive feels my longing to reunite with you.”
A jolt like lightning runs from her hand through every nerve in my body, and I go limp. Utterly helpless.
“Soon you’ll learn how wonderful a thing it is to belong to us, the same as I did. It won’t be long now, my love.”