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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

01-Spark - 10. The Spark

Chapter 10. The Spark

 

 

We walked for a long time in the darkness, side by side in the ever-narrowing tunnel. My weakness from earlier was gone. We were descending, and as we did so the temperature rose slowly but steadily. There was nothing to see, but there was only one way to follow so getting lost wasn't an option. The surface of the tunnel we followed was rough underfoot but sufficiently smooth that we didn’t once stumble over a fallen rock or trip over a hidden depression beneath our feet. I was on the right side of the tunnel, with Andy on my left and each of us trailing the wall with one hand. I could see nothing, but I could hear Andy breathing beside me. I could sense the slight tremors that shook the walls of the tunnel at regular intervals which grew stronger the more we walked. I could smell a foreign odor as well, animal in nature, sharp and penetrating. It got stronger as we descended until it permeated the air, saturating our nose receptors so that we ceased to perceive it altogether after several long minutes had passed.

And there was the call, the faint whisper of a summons I couldn’t hear with my ears. She wanted us to come, and there was a command but also an urgency in the mental connection she shared with us. I knew it affected us both because, incredibly, I could sense Andy's mind through her; just a little, no more than a shadow of faint perception, but it was there. In linking with both of us, she had linked us together.

We kept going through the darkness and as we did the walls of the tunnel got rougher and even more narrow. I could tell that the queen had gotten more and more tired as she had burrowed underground. It had been cycles beyond counting since she had last been free to move like this. The growing unevenness of the terrain made it harder to walk, and when Andy tripped the first time I reached out and took his hand in mine to steady him. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

The faint mental connection between us got stronger immediately. I felt a flash of surprise coming from all three of us: from Andy and me, wonder mixed with fear. From the queen, approving satisfaction. I knew I should have probably been scared out of my mind right then, trying to escape what was almost certainly a trap this creature was weaving around us, but it didn't feel wrong. This… link, it was fascinating, and more than that. It was like discovering a sense I had never known I had, a new kind of perception that could link me to other beings.

Almost as an aside, I wondered if I was having hallucinations of some kind. Dean himself had said that 02-spark was a known psychotropic substance. I had seen junkies run straight into deadly traffic fleeing from vivid hallucinations that only they could see. Could this be something like that? Could all of this be in my mind?

I shook my head, trying to dislodge the thought. No. This felt real. And I had to keep going, I had to reach the queen whether she was willing to let me or not, because everything depended on her now. The survival of my city was on the line. But what if she was mind controlling me now, somehow? Would I even know?

“It's not like that,” Andy said into the darkness. His response felt so natural that it took me a few moments to remember that I had not actually spoken the thought out loud. Yet he had heard it. “I’m still myself, with free will. She wants us to come to her, but we can still say no. Watch.”

He stopped in the darkness and let go of my hand. Instantly, my awareness of him faded. I stopped as well, uncertain. Then I heard him distinctly retracing his steps, going back to the surface.

I followed him just to find out if I could. I was able to do it just fine. I could still feel the alien call in my mind, but it was a suggestion, not a coercive order. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then Andy came back, and took my hand again. Our mutual link sprung to life again, and with it the awareness of the exhausted creature that was close, very close.

“See?” Andy said. “Stop being so paranoid, Rick. Come on. We have to reach her.”

“And then what?” I asked him, knowing full well that the queen was listening in that disjointed, alien way of hers. Even as I thought that, I got a vivid visual image of antennae sweeping the darkness, gathering information on humidity, temperature, vibrations. Here, in the dark tunnels, she could sense everything better than we could. I shuddered involuntarily.

“Then what?” Andy echoed. “Then we see. There has to be something we can do.”

“Dean was right,” I said. “We have no weapons. She obviously doesn't want to be captured again. What the hell are we going to do?”

Andy started walking with me in tow. “Let's find out.”

We saw the glow of her nest long before we found it. It lit the walls of the tunnel in soft bioluminescent white and blue. When we rounded the final corner, we stepped down a small incline and right into a very large, nearly circular chamber that almost looked like a cave, except that it was too regular, too much of a near-perfect sphere to be natural. The walls glowed brightly, all splattered with spark as they were. The glow was brightest at the bottom of the nest, where the spark was thickest, and its light illuminated the hulking, pulsating body of the gigantic queen that was waiting for us.

Lit by this unearthly glow, she looked both more terrifying and more magnificent than I had ever seen her. The strange light illuminated patterns on her carapace that I had not seen before, intricate jagged lines and spirals that reminded me of phosphorescent paint under black light. She wasn’t digging anymore, but had settled her massive bulk against the far end of the nest. As soon as we arrived, she lifted her head with those ever-moving mandibles and looked at us out of her many, many eyes.

I felt Andy grip my hand tighter, and I instinctively stepped forward a little bit, standing between him and the creature. As she saw this futile attempt at protection, I felt mild amusement coming from her mind. She was perfectly aware that she could kill both of us in seconds and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. But still. There had to be some reason why she had called us, some reason when she hadn’t simply disappeared underground forever. Why were we here?

Weak.

Hearing her mind from so close was almost overwhelming. Andy gasped behind me, and I barely managed not to do the same. I had understood a single word as usual, but riding underneath it had been so many things, perceptions my brain had no name for, and some for which it did. Unyielding earth. Trembling legs. Mortal wounds. It was confusing, and at first I thought she had been referring to us as weak.

“She refers to herself,” Andy said, knowing my own thoughts as I knew his. I wasn’t even sure he was speaking aloud. Then I felt approval from the queen, and she projected more sensations in quick succession, too many for me to remember at once even with the mental link we were sharing. But together, Andy and I supplemented the other’s understanding and we were able to make rough sense of what she said.

She projected faint memories of living underground, then the blur of overwhelming loneliness and tormenting captivity. She projected viciousness, and hunger. There was also understanding of her weakness, and understanding that she could not tunnel far enough to escape humans, not when all other queens in the planet had tried to do the same and been destroyed in the process. She had to do something else, something as alien to her as this mental communion was to me. I felt her struggle to create the concept, drawing knowledge from Andy's mind and mine. Surrounded by glittering spark, her razor-sharp legs close enough to impale both of us faster than we could run, we were completely caught in the majesty and otherness of this form of life as she thought with our brains. None of the other queens had ever communicated this closely with humans before; none of them had ever needed to. This time, however, there was no other way. She had already sent out tendrils of seeker awareness through the entire planet and received no response. She was alone. She had to survive somehow.

The concept was almost formed now, helped along by both our minds. It suddenly clicked into place, this desire of the alien queen, her solution to her impending captivity.

She wanted to make a bargain.

She presented the solution to Andy and me, and without looking at each other we agreed immediately. We did not need to speak. We were linked so closely that merely thinking about the other brought awareness unlike any other I had ever felt. It was communion like I had never known, deeper than anything I had thought was possible to share with another human being. Together, we saw her proposed solution and analyzed it.

We knew that it was not optimal for the people back in the city, since she would not be going back into captivity, and that many would still suffer, but only for a time. Her idea was a compromise, a desperate measure. There was no other way. I felt her digging through our minds, evaluating thousands of scenarios faster than a computer could ever do it, and come to the conclusion that our agreement would hold if Andy and I completed our part of the deal. We promised to help her, Andy and I, without speaking a word, and this promise was binding in a way that spoken words could never hope to be. We had been free to accept or reject it, but once freely accepted there was no way but to carry out our duty. Her vast, terrible mind would make sure of that. I couldn’t help the thought that flashed through my mind: how would she enforce our cooperation? The answer came immediately. She would show us how.

Abruptly, the queen cut off all contact. She severed the link between herself and us, and the loss of the unity was as shocking as if somebody had dumped a bucket of ice-cold water on me. I knew a moment of complete despair, and I desperately looked at Andy's face only to see that same emotion mirrored in there. It was unbearable. After having sensed him so completely, it was torment to know he was standing right next to me but be unable to feel him like I had. I felt alone, adrift, isolated from the world. I felt trapped in my own senses, lost in crushing loneliness.

Andy stumbled forward and I took him into my arms, hugging him desperately. He returned the hug, even sobbing slightly. I was shaken to the core as well. The cruelty of showing us the magnificence of a sense of communion we had not known we had, only to take it away like that, was beyond words. It felt worse than suddenly going blind, worse than having an arm cut off. My mind screamed inside my skull but there was no way out.

A sinuous, segmented coil of the queen's body shifted position. She lowered her head and turned it slightly so one row of eyes could stare at us in the glow of her own spark. Twin antennae brushed the air around us, stopping and then moving again, smelling, hearing, feeling. She did not speak to us, still cruelly holding herself back, but her message was clear.

I held Andy close to me and wiped a tear from my cheek. “We understand!” I told her as loudly as I could. “We will do it, dammit! Just bring it back, please!”

Her mandibles clicked twice. Then she straightened up and suddenly—

Andy shuddered against me with the relief of our renewed connection. I felt his fear at being plunged into loneliness merge with mine, and I also felt the cold amusement of the watching queen. We renewed our promise soundlessly, knowing perfectly well that we would do whatever it took to keep this link intact. The queen allowed herself satisfaction, and the fear at her own fate eased slightly. She had been a cornered animal, forced to do anything to stay alive. The bargain she had struck displeased her, but there was simply no other way. Even with our help, there was no turning back the tide of humanity.

At least not now. At least not yet.

Her body shuddered. The spark around us crackled and the stripes running along her abdomen suddenly began glowing brighter, even as everything else dimmed. She seemed to be gathering the energy of spark into herself, drawing the brightness into her body and channeling it down her abdomen, focusing it on a single glowing point. Organs that she had not used for many, many years were suddenly shocked into action, and there was pain. There was a lot of pain. Andy and I shared it, cringing, knowing that she was shielding us from the full horror of the spasms that racked her atrophied body so long kept in captivity. She would only be able to do this once for decades. But she would do it, or die trying.

The brightness inside her abdomen increased, grew, then focused. The stripes along her body lost their glow and transferred it to that point at the very end of the writhing, slick cylinder of her lower body. The glowing point began to grow, encasing something that had been stored there, something that even now began to pulse with life. The glow elongated, outlining the thing inside the queen more clearly. Andy and I both saw a dark shape inside the glow begin to move with uncoordinated jerks, struggling, fighting. Slowly, slowly, the spark’s glow encased the feeble shape completely.

And then the queen gave birth.

She screamed. She screamed with her mind and with her screeching mouthparts as well, but she focused every ounce of her energy into the birth and both Andy and I could not tear our eyes away from the glowing egg that she was slowly pushing out, enduring agony as she did so, never stopping, not once, not until the egg had been laid in a pool of congealing spark between her many razor-sharp legs, shielded from the world by her body. We felt her mind give in to complete exhaustion as the birth was complete. She had pushed herself too far, too fast. She had no energy left and so she collapsed.

She was not dead, but almost so. She barely had energy to lift two of her legs out of the way and allow Andy and me to rush forward and take the enormous egg which reached up to our knees between the two of us. It was still slick with spark, but it felt warm and alive.

Bargain.

The queen's word echoed through our minds, and the link grew fainter as she lost consciousness, but it was not gone like before. Andy and I looked at each other on either side of the big glowing egg. The larva of a juvenile queen inside it was already moving, her many-legged outline dark against the brightness of the flexible veined shell, ready to hatch at our command. She was the queen's bargain, a new source of spark for our city in exchange for her own life. There had been no other way. Andy and I had known it as well. Both sides lost something, but both gained time. That was all that mattered now.

 

When we came out of the tunnel carrying the egg together an entire contingent of soldiers and Peacekeepers were already there waiting for us. They took the egg away and questioned Andy and me for a very long time. They kept us separate from each other, and from Dean, for nearly three days. I was not alone, though. The queen’s gift to us held true. I had only to think of Andy to feel him respond, and even though physical separation made it impossible to communicate actual words, I was aware of him and he was aware of me. It was incredibly reassuring.

They asked me about the mission, about how the queen had escaped. I told them about Bentley, about the drill and the explosions, even the tunnel part—I shared everything except the fact that the original queen was still alive and I told them nothing about the mental link we still shared. The temporary tunnel she had made in her flight had collapsed in on itself soon after Andy and I had exited it for the second time, carrying the precious egg, before the digger crews had made any significant progress at plotting its structure. The queen was buried far underground and inaccessible. She would not be found now, not unless she wanted to be.

I was questioned by scientists on the egg as well, and I told them as best as I could how to create a suitable environment for the young queen when she hatched. I didn’t know much, but Dean was a huge help on that. I also told them that the new queen would not hatch until Andy and I gave the signal imprinted on our minds, and at first they thought I was crazy, or hallucinating on spark. Only after several lengthy interviews and a lot of discussions with Dean did they unwillingly concede that what Andy and I said might be true. This more than anything eventually swayed all the authorities to let Andy, Dean and I go free; we were the key to the new source of spark, and they needed our cooperation. There were still charges of terrorism levied against Andy and Dean, but I threatened everyone for weeks, all the way to the High Justices, and forced them to drop the charges on the grounds that neither of them had done anything willingly. They made it difficult, but in the end they had no choice. By then word had gone out and it was evident that Andy and I still held the key to the city's spark. Electrical power was already failing rapidly in many sectors, all emergency generators working far past their capacity. The network needed to be reestablished, and quickly. So they gave me everything I asked for in the end: a pardon for Andy and Dean and also Islander citizenship for both. Only after that had been cleared up did Andy and I go down to the hastily reconstructed Plant for the new queen’s birth.

We were surrounded by dignitaries, engineers and scientists on that day. Dean was nearby, but he was lost in the crowd of important people who wanted to see this strange thing happen. We stepped forward together and saw the array of tubes and machinery prepared to receive their new host. I felt a moment of revulsion at what we were about to do, condemning a sentient organism to a life of captivity from its very beginning. Andy caught my thought, of course, and the faraway grown queen echoed it from her underground nest, but we all knew that it was the only solution. And so Andy and I reached for the egg on either side and spoke with our voices and our minds. The shell cracked, surprisingly brittle suddenly, and every bit of spark inside it was absorbed by the larva that had been growing there. We stepped back hurriedly from the dog-sized creature that broke out, legs flailing. It resembled a gigantic silverfish, and many of those attending stepped back in instinctive fear. Someone hastily snapped on the containment field, trapping the new queen securely. Then behind us everybody began speaking at once.

“The city will live now,” Andy said to me, looking at the horrifying creature as it was secured to the many tubes that would bind it.

“I know. But for how long? The grown queen… she will not suffer this to go on for very long. You know that. Eventually, she will attack.”

Andy smiled at me, and his roguish charm melted my heart. I knew his mind through our precious link, knew the depth of feeling he had for me and which I shared, and he was speaking for both of us when he said, “I don't care, Rick. It was worth it, because I met you. And as long as we're together, I know there will always be a way.”

I kissed him then, long and deep, ignoring the dozens of people who wanted to ask us questions. My life felt right for the first time in many, many years. I gave in to the happiness, surrendering to the strangeness and also to love.

From the corner of my mind, coming from far underground, I felt a faint echo of alien amusement. I did my best to ignore its deeper threatening, menacing note.

The end! I can only say thank you, to each and everyone of you who has read this story and given me feedback. I guess it's painfully obvious that I like mind-link stuff in my fiction, huh? In my defense, this story was written quite a while before Tantalus! I'll publish another new story starting next week, so you guys can follow me as an author if you'd like to be notified as soon as it goes live. I also have a new story out on my website, The Monolith, if you'd like to check it out.

There will be a continuation for 01-Spark, too, but it will take at least a couple months. Follow the story if you'd like to know when it happens! And again, thank you. You guys rule.

Caz, a thousand and one thanks for your help.

Albert Nothlit
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Like every other one of your stories I've read, this one left me satisfied. Yet wanting more at the same time. You have a gift for creating a complete story while leaving the door open for more to follow. Thanks. For sharing, Albert.

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I'm not sure I really liked this ending... I feel terrible for that newborn queen. But it seems like mummy dearest has a plan. Or Andy and Rick could start looking for another way to get electricity. I will look forward to the sequel!

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Really enjoyed this one, very interesting world that you created. Not sure about the first chapter though, this is a really cool sci-fi story, but I doubt I would've pressed on if not for Tantalus. I don't mind sex, but to put it at the very beginning always seems a bit gratuitous. I fear it might have scared off some potential readers who would've loved the rest of the story. Anyway, it's a minor gripe. Glad I did read it all, cause it was awesome. And a sequel is absolutely needed.

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The queen had been hiding a great deal from her captors. Placing her only offspring, even temporarily, into the same slavery she suffered for so long was a steep price. It will be hard to push these people into some new energy source, but for now the island is safe.

 

This was a fascinating and action charged story. You wrapped things up with a perfect balance between too little and enough. We want more, but we will patiently wait for it. I doubt it could have been done better. I applaud your finesse.

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Very well done! Nicely tidied up at the end with everyone still around to pick up and carry on at a later date. As usual this story was engaging and enticing, with realistic interactions between people that make this a more believable scenario. I look forward to reading your future gifts.

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On 07/01/2015 10:33 AM, Valkyrie said:

I really enjoyed this story and look forward to the sequel. :)

Thank you very much! I really enjoyed writing it.

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On 07/01/2015 07:27 AM, Dathi said:

Very well done! Nicely tidied up at the end with everyone still around to pick up and carry on at a later date. As usual this story was engaging and enticing, with realistic interactions between people that make this a more believable scenario. I look forward to reading your future gifts.

Thanks, man! I'm glad I was able to keep your interest, and more goodies will come very soon :)

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On 06/30/2015 04:21 PM, drpaladin said:

The queen had been hiding a great deal from her captors. Placing her only offspring, even temporarily, into the same slavery she suffered for so long was a steep price. It will be hard to push these people into some new energy source, but for now the island is safe.

 

This was a fascinating and action charged story. You wrapped things up with a perfect balance between too little and enough. We want more, but we will patiently wait for it. I doubt it could have been done better. I applaud your finesse.

*tries not to blush* Thank you very much! It was a hard choice for the Queen, but her kind of intelligence works differently from ours. And her emotions are complex and hard to predict.

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On 06/30/2015 08:51 AM, RobV said:

Really enjoyed this one, very interesting world that you created. Not sure about the first chapter though, this is a really cool sci-fi story, but I doubt I would've pressed on if not for Tantalus. I don't mind sex, but to put it at the very beginning always seems a bit gratuitous. I fear it might have scared off some potential readers who would've loved the rest of the story. Anyway, it's a minor gripe. Glad I did read it all, cause it was awesome. And a sequel is absolutely needed.

Thank you for the feedback! I do hope I didn't scare too many people away, lol.

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On 06/30/2015 05:56 AM, Puppilull said:

I'm not sure I really liked this ending... I feel terrible for that newborn queen. But it seems like mummy dearest has a plan. Or Andy and Rick could start looking for another way to get electricity. I will look forward to the sequel!

It was a compromise made in desperation, but the Queen is tough and driven by relentless determination. She will not be idle for too long.

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On 06/30/2015 12:56 AM, Carlos Hazday said:

Like every other one of your stories I've read, this one left me satisfied. Yet wanting more at the same time. You have a gift for creating a complete story while leaving the door open for more to follow. Thanks. For sharing, Albert.

Thank you so much, Carlos! Leaving the door open for more to tell is a personal weakness of mine :)

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On 06/30/2015 04:26 AM, Kalandor said:

Oh, poor young queen!

Thank you for reading! Feedback from readers is the best thing in the world for writers, as I'm sure you know!

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Judging by your replies to the other reviews, there will be more? I will wait patiently. Another one of your stories I've really enjoyed.

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Fine writing and fine storytelling! For me, the best test of sci-fi is how well it succeeds in telling the human tale--it's not about technology or the wonders of viewing unknown places or things. You've succeeded admirably in that with a story that naturally flows, that keeps the attention, that keeps me wanting more.
I'm looking forward to your next stories!

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Simply outstanding! I sit in awe of your breadth of imagination and storytelling prowess. Thank you so much for this amazing story. The promise of more to come is really exciting.

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On 07/06/2015 07:32 PM, BrianM said:

Simply outstanding! I sit in awe of your breadth of imagination and storytelling prowess. Thank you so much for this amazing story. The promise of more to come is really exciting.

Thank you so much! It means a lot :)

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On 07/05/2015 07:37 AM, Robert Rex said:

Fine writing and fine storytelling! For me, the best test of sci-fi is how well it succeeds in telling the human tale--it's not about technology or the wonders of viewing unknown places or things. You've succeeded admirably in that with a story that naturally flows, that keeps the attention, that keeps me wanting more.

I'm looking forward to your next stories!

Hiya! Thank you for the kind feedback!

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On 07/05/2015 05:45 AM, Defiance19 said:

Judging by your replies to the other reviews, there will be more? I will wait patiently. Another one of your stories I've really enjoyed.

Yup, more goodness will come as soon as I clear up my schedule a bit!

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Great story,love the romance between Rick and Andy.
Keep up with writing more romantic stories

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On 06/05/2016 02:52 AM, long1jo said:

Great story,love the romance between Rick and Andy.

Keep up with writing more romantic stories

I started out writing M/M romance, so that's definitely something I will always do from time to time. Thank you for reviewing!

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