The Black Widow Warrior
Dying no longer satisfied Cheerios. As vivid as the computer enhanced neural simulations of her demise were, she never felt that final extinction, that last leap into the black void where she could leave behind her memories of the responsibility she had for her husband’s death.
Whether dying and going to hell would take her far enough away to escape all the bad poetry written about her by the combat poets of Maya, she had her doubts.
She finished buckling together the armored chest plates of her combat suit over her heavy, misshapen breasts just as the titanium battle doors of Bunker Two rumbled open. A screen of pulsating purple light laced with ultra-violet radiation filled the lock entrance. It would kill any Big Butt bugs waiting to sneak into the bunker. Such genetically designed creatures, plants, and microbes fought and died on the surface of Maya as part of a process to transform the once airless moon to a habitable state. Passing into the shimmering violet light shower, she prayed that this day her blood would add to the life of Maya.
Near the entrance to the battle lock, steaming, verdant vegetation reached toward the bunker in twisting, waving swarms. Recent explosions had blasted notches in the heavy growth. The MiliTechs had made an all-out effort to take Bunker Two. Controlling it would have given them access to the underground fusion plant that powered the Mayan colony. Ultimately only the combat poets under her command had driven them back.
Close by the bunker entrance, several artists milled about in combat suits decorated appropriately to their clan and bunker. Combat dancers had leggings painted on their combat suits, combat painters great splashes of color that explored the boundaries of form and light. A performance artist wore a combat suit with two heads, a combat poet a suit covered with poems. The soldiers carried a rag-tag assortment of weapons: nerve tubes, acid sprayers, Big Butt bug reamers, and fully auto spatter guns.
“Let’s go,” announced a combat poet, Jonas, apparently the self-appointed leader of the patrol.
“I still give the orders around here,” Cheerios growled, stepping forward.
Jonas turned to her. “Captain, I didn’t think you’d want to be out here during …”
He knew better than to say ‘Roi’s funeral,’ but on the chest plate of Jonas’s combat suit a black widow spider crouched over a limp body. Since Roi’s death, the image had appeared on every surface of the bunker, the name no one would say to her face: Black Widow Warrior.
One of her fists flew out before she could control herself. It smashed the spider on Jonas’s chest with a satisfying smack. Jonas was sent flying to the muddy ground. Quick moving black vines swarmed over his helmet and began pulling him face-first into a thrashing heap of rotting vegetation.
“What the—” he yelped.
“Spider on your suit,” she snapped. “Could get you killed.”
She turned away while soldiers sprayed the vines with acid and yanked Jonas to his feet.
“This way,” she ordered, starting up a ravine blasted to fire-blackened, jagged rocks. As she picked her way forward, a flock of duckvultures flew overhead through the muddy azure sky. The birds had pink paisley-print feathers and quacked gutturally as they bit at each others asses with garish purple beaks lined with razor-sharp, if alcohol rotted, teeth. She watched them in her helmet scanner until they fell from the sky in a drunken heap on a nearby hilltop.
Jonas caught up with her at a rocky crag and reached out to touch her combat suit so they could speak privately.
“Sorry, Cap, didn’t know you’d want to be out today.”
“Just stay out of my way if you want to live,” she said, pulling her arm away. Breaking the suit-to-suit contact meant the others who joined them would have heard only the last part of her remark. If her plan worked, it wouldn’t matter.
She took out a hand scanner and used it to locate a malfunctioning sensor. She reformed the patrol and led it into a gully littered with the fresh bones of a two-headed, three eyed, four red-tail-feathered doghog overlaid with a glistening patina of green slime. Cocking her spatter gun and setting it on full auto, she signaled the others to be prepared.
Continuing to the head of the gully, she spotted both the source of the slime and the problem with the sensor. A steaming pile of translucent green goop covered the black radar dish. Looking at the undulating pile through the magnification of her helmet visor, she could not decide whether it was sentient, and thereby susceptible to bribes, taunts, or force, or whether it had mounted the sensor at MiliTech’s bequest to interfere with the tracking of their incoming truce ship.
She raised a hand to signal Jonas to go forward, the others to fan out behind her. Jonas responded, his multi-tubed nerve gun at the ready. While he went forward, she calmly readied a blue thermal pellet—her freedom, her final friend—to fire from her spatter gun. She intended the pellet to be the instrument of her demise, her personal funeral pyre. Dying during Roi’s memorial service would be fitting. He had died by her hands during their honeymoon when she’d woken to find his hands around her throat. She’d lashed out reflexively and broken his neck.
The promise of her marriage to Roi, that she would fully regain the human feelings she’d lost in her life-long training to be a warrior, now haunted her. With Roi she’d regained the ability to feel pain, but now she couldn’t shut it off; it blasted every cell of her body every waking moment.
Jonas reached the undulating slime. After walking around it, he called to Cheerios via his combat helmet intercom.
“Beats me what it is.”
Finishing with the pellet, she looked up.
“I’m going to fire a thermal pellet over it. Stand aside.”
As Jonas moved away from the sensor, she saw a sight that sent a spear of ice shooting up her spine: Roi stepped out from behind the green mound, one hand raised in greeting, the other pointing at the gas giant Valhalla overhead. Feelings of joy and happiness exploded in her chest. This is impossible, she told herself, but her hand jerked upward to answer his greeting. Hearing a popping sound she realized she’d accidentally triggered the thermal pellet. In horror, she saw it flying toward Jonas.
“Look out!” she screamed. Before he could turn aside, the blue pellet landed on his chest and burst into flames that enveloped his head and shoulders like a giant, undulating blue flower. Jonas screamed in terror and slapped desperately at the huge petals of shimmering flame.
“I’m coming,” she shouted, throwing down her spatter gun and racing toward him.
Jonas screamed again, more shrilly, as if that prospect frightened him even more than his current predicament. A human bonfire, he stumbled away from her. Chasing him down, she grabbed him by the shoulders and rammed her helmet onto the flaming blue pellet to smother it. As flames filled her helmet visor with a searing, bluish-white glare, the coolant motor of her combat suit shrieked.
Jonas screamed for a third time, but this time she could also make out the words, “Okay, you can lead the fucking patrol!”
“That’s not why this happened,” she called out, but she heard no response. “Please let him live,” she begged, casting aside her warrior’s mask, not caring who heard the desperation in her voice. If Jonas died, others would forever believe that Roi was simply the casualty of a killing machine gone awry.
As the face visor of her helmet began to melt in the intense heat, she kept her face to the searing blue light. Death could not come quickly enough.