Rubberwerks Part Three
By Lyka Bloom
The foliage whipped by, leaving behind small lacerations. Clay’s face and arms were criss-crossed by these red lines, his hand clutched tight to Maggie’s as they ran. He had a vague idea of the trail’s location, and he wondered, a fleeting concern, if they might not just keep running, missing the trail as they tread across it, hurtling deeper into the jungle where they would surely be lost. It was the lesser of his fears, and far behind the dread of what they had seen.
The image of Christine floated before him. In his mind’s eye, the blonde-haired, statuesque girl split open, the tan skin sloughing away to reveal the gray-skinned creature that had called his name inside the concrete tomb. The building itself disappeared behind a curtain of trees and vines and brush as they ran, but it was no less terrifying for its absence. When the creature in his mind reached for him, part of him wanted to go to it, and, even as they ran, he could feel a tug back to the building, back to the slimy arms of his lover.
“Stop,” Maggie gasped, her sweaty hand slipping out of his grip. “I have to stop.”
Momentum carried Clay a step or two away from her before he, too, stopped, bending and placing his hands on his knees as he sucked in the humid jungle air.
Maggie met his eyes, hers red-rimmed from the tears that leaked from her since they began their flight from the building. Her nose was crusty, her upper lip caked with mucus. Her neon-red bob was plastered to her skull from sweat, her tee clinging to her skin and framing her slim body.
“We can’t leave them,” she managed.
“We have to get help, Mags. There’s nothing we can do for them.”
“What is it?” she asked, but the tone begged for relief, rather than answers. She wanted this to exist in the world of the explainable, an event that could be neatly categorized and, therefore, dealt with. Her world outside this jungle was neat, organized. Even if she was forced to contend with the occasional stare from a stranger when she held hands with Justine on the street or in a restaurant, even that bigotry made sense. What happened in the factory threatened to pry her mind free of its moorings.
“Something old, I think,” Clay said, straightening and looking past Maggie to the jungle, searching for signs of movement that would indicate pursuit. “I found some files upstairs, something to do with experiments, but…” He shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know, Maggie. All I know is we have to get back to the village and get some help.”
“I don’t want to leave her.”
“You think I want to leave Christine?” he asked, and his voice was loud and sharp, as cutting as the greedy green fingers of the jungle had been. He lowered his voice. “I’m sorry, Mags. I know how you feel, I do, but you saw what happened. They just have to touch you. We can’t risk it.”
“I love her,” Maggie said, but Clay understood she was no longer talking to him. She was, in her way, giving a eulogy. “I just want her back. Please let her come back.”
Clay had no response, other than to silently repeat her prayer, this time for Christine. ‘Please, God, let Christine come back.’
They did find the trail, and following it as it descended away from the thick jungle to the relative civilization below, Clay felt something like hope. The sun was rising, and the fact of it seemed to dispel the worst of his fears just as it drove away the darkness. Maggie’s pace had picked up, too, and Clay believed she felt a similar optimism. Things might be okay, after all, he thought.
The village from which they had launched their adventure into the jungle was just waking when they came to the outskirts, the trail depositing them at the south end where a young girl with a tangle of dark hair and a dirty yellow dress chased chickens that bobbed and weaved away from her. She stopped her pursuit when she saw Maggie and Clay emerge from the jungle, her hands flexing into fists as she they approached.
“Mama,” she said, turning suddenly and running away from the gringos staggering along the path.
Their arrival drew more stares as villagers emptied into the main street, a riveted dirt road that wound through the village before slithering into the distance towards the larger cities. An old man in a straw hat offered a smile, his teeth a patchwork of rotten ivory and black gaps.
Clay was struck by the silence of the villagers, leaning around one another to see, they stopped at the apex of the road’s path through the village between a wood-and-tin store that had not yet opened and a cantina that had.
“Hablas ingles?” Clay asked. “Please, we need help. Something happened in the jungle. Our friends are sick.”
Clay looked into the shadowed faces of the villagers, eyes narrowed as the sun climbed up the sky, their clothing primitive and elegant in its simplicity, a small lake of white and red and blooming fabric that fit loosely on the uncomprehending populace.
“Please,” Justine repeated. “We need help. They’re at the building in the jungle. The factory.”
Whispers bubbled up from the congregation, faces that had fixed on the Americans now turned toward one another, some shaking their heads, others abandoning the scene to retreat indoors and shutter themselves from the scene outside.
Clay watched as the mood of the villagers changed from curiosity to mistrust, and he could sense rather than see the subtle tide of the crowd recede away from them. When he took a step toward the old man in the straw hat, he inhaled sharply, almost a hiss, taking a pronounced step away. He cursed himself for his inability to communicate, but Christine had served as their translator. As with everything, it was Christine that was the expert, the driving force behind the group. Without her, he was as helpless as an infant, unable to translate his need into anything resembling a comprehensible thought. Before he could lapse into charades, a crisp voice called from the back of the crowd.
“You have been to the facility?”
Clay’s eyes focused on the rail-thin elderly man parting the crowd as he came closer. He leaned heavily on a wooden cane that wobbled when he favored it. His skin was deeply tanned, creased like well-worn leather. His eyes were a light blue, sharp as a razor’s edge, and his expression was almost bemused as he hobbled near, his arthritic hand hooked like a talon on his cane.
“How did you find it?”
“You speak English?”
“Yes,” he said. Though his accent was faintly Teutonic, the vague smile on his face reflected in his voice. “But you should not have gone there. Your friends, they are still up there?” He waggled the tip of the cane toward the thick jungle. His eyes narrowed with the motion, then he fell back onto the cane as it pierced the dusty earth.
“There’s something wrong with them,” Maggie said, her voice hitching.
“Your friends are no longer your friends, yes?”
“You know something.” Clay stated it as fact, not a question.
“Come with me.” The Germanic old man shuffled away, now, ushering them to follow with the feeble wave of a hand.
Christine tossed her head back, holding Justine to her wet, black folds. The new recruit’s tongue was expert and eager, running slickly over the enlarged and engorged labia of her queen. Christine writhed on the ground, her body producing the dark and viscous goo, which was in turn swallowed by the girl buried in her sex. It was a form of suckling, Christine’s aphrodisiacal expulsions bonding her subject further to her will, to wipe away the last traces of human hesitation.
She could cull from the minds of the three drones found in their tanks what their lives had been before. One had been a secretary at the facility, corrupted by the casual brush against one of the test subjects. The other two had volunteered under the guise of patriotism, and found themselves evolving together. Even now, Christine could sense a closeness between them.
They clung together on the floor, ropey tongues extending from the slits on their bulbous and smooth faces. The echoes of their humanity were examined and turned over like a curiosity as Christine reached into their minds from the pool of consciousness they all shared, then buried deeper. Christine knew she would need them focused on her for the coming days and weeks. Any humanity that remained would need to be snuffed out for the next wave of progress. They must be ideals of service to her, their thoughts uniform and indistinguishable from the others.
The one called Nareen had submerged the quickest of all the newly converted, and she moved beneath the one previously known as Stephen. She had tasted oblivion and found it suited her. It was ironic that the submerging of her thoughts into the group’s communal awareness had erased the last of Stephen’s resistance, and now the two were perfectly obedient to Christine’s will. She stroked their minds with hers, praising their nothingness. They came together at her ethereal caress.
She would allow them a few more hours of pleasure, of exploration into their nearly-identical forms, before rallying them to march. They would need the darkness for their work.
The drone known before as Justine twisted between Christine’s legs, hacking and coughing up thick black fluid. As soon as it struck the floor with a meaty splat, the goo quivered and shook, then flowed like dark mercury back to Justine where it was absorbed into the slick coating that covered her.
She continued her coughing, rising up to her knees and crawling away, spewing the dark ooze onto the floor ahead of her. Finally, she threw her head back and opened her mouth wide, oily cords exploding from her mouth. Christine smiled as the drone lifted into the air, pulled high above the rest by the rubbery cables she vomited out. In moments, she was cocooned above them, just as they all had been. Christine felt her thoughts, her fear searing her consciousness. Their queen guided the thoughts of the nest and reassured Justine, wrapped her thoughts in bliss and welcome, teasing her with the anonymity that awaited when she emerged from the reflective sac which enveloped her.
The orgasms of the group lifted her thoughts from worry to need, and Christine felt her desire to change for them, to be like them, and Christine assured her this thinking was right and good.
Christine rose, walking amidst the shuddering bodies of her drones, encouraging them as they lost themselves in one another, their mouth-slits and pussy-slits given equal attention, as both brought similar pleasures. The protruding phallus of Stephen’s droneform was given attention by all, and he filled them with his black seed.
Christine knelt in the center of them and her drones found her, worshiping her with their hands and mouth-slits. She did not lead them from afar, enjoying their pleasures as much as her own. There was little difference between them, in truth, save for the need to rule them she understood as an essential part of herself. And, above all, was the need to have more, to rule more, until she could feel no thoughts but those of her subjects.
The name sat him down, and Clay felt his world tilt on its axis, dumping him into the leather chair with the cracked and worn seat.
“What is it?” Maggie asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Hauptmann?” Clay asked, incredulous.
“Yes. And I am the last survivor of the experiments conducted in the facility you and your friends found.” He swiped at the wispy white hair on his head, thinly covering the liver-spotted skin.
“I saw your name on the door.”
“You saw the files, then?” Hauptmann shuffled across the floor of the modest home, palatial by the standards of the rest of the village. The furniture was patchwork and aging, but comfortable. Sunlight filtered through dirty windows, illuminating walls covered by awards and degrees, yellowed and faded with age. Off the den, where Clay sat and Maggie stood beside him, was a kitchen, the linoleum peeling up at the corners, dust collected there and grown black with neglect. A dim hallway led away from the den and to the bathroom and a pair of bedrooms beyond.
They watched Hauptmann prepare a pot of tea from the kitchen, pausing to stare out the window at the jungle past the border of the village. He tilted his head toward the den, not looking at either of the Americans.
“Your friends are infected, yes?”
“Yes,” Maggie said, taking a step toward the kitchen, her hand slipping from Clay’s shoulder. “Can you help them?”
“I can stop them,” Hauptmann replied. His voice was as distant as his eyes, staring down a corridor of memory. “We stopped them before.”
“What is that place?” Clay asked finally.
Hauptmann handed the tray with its teapot and clinking cups to Maggie as she stepped forward to meet him, and he fell back into the chair across from them. Maggie placed the tray on the coffee table between them, noting the magazines on the table were all written in German, and none were newer than five years before.
“We were given a simple order. From Berlin. You know of the war, yes?”
“Yes,” Clay said.
“The tide had shifted. We were losing,” Hauptmann said, emphasizing the last to indicate the surprise at the time. “There was always a philosophy behind the politics, you know. To bring peace, in a way. To purify.”
Hauptmann poured his tea. He lifted his cup and raised his eyebrows in invitation, but Clay and Maggie both shook their heads. Maggie leaned again on Clay, barely taller then he was sitting down.
“We discovered the material when we were developing new uniforms for the Wehrmacht. It was pliable and strong and completely organic. It was alive, you see? It could heal itself. The first tests showed us we could bond it to the subjects, but they were no good. The subjects suffocated inside them.”
“You choked people to death,” Maggie said, her hand drifting to her chest, a fist between her small breasts.
“As I said,” Hauptmann went on, “we were losing. We were desperate. We were working around the clock, far from the front lines. Hidden away here. If we were successful, we would send the material to the closest regiment and it would spread from there. We needed no factories, no manufacturing. It could spread from one soldier to another with but a touch.”
He took a sip, his lifting his busy eyebrows and he smiled, a bitter, humorless expression.
“You are too young to understand. We would be crushed, humiliated, subjugated by our enemies. Our volunteers ran out. We… incorporated… some of the men from this village to test, with no more success than our own patriots had shown. It wasn’t until we used one of the female volunteers that it worked. It needed a mother, you see.”
Hauptmann laughed, a rasping chuckle that exploded into phlegmy coughing.
“The subject lived. If you’ve seen the files, you know that the woman bonded with the material far beyond our imaginings. It became part of her, changed her. And it spread just as we had hoped. As easy as the brush of a hand. What we could not have anticipated is the assertion of its own consciousness. It didn’t care about our politics, our petty philosophies. It only wanted to make more like itself. And those that were infected acted as one. Part of a collective consciousness. The first infected, she served as a leader of sorts, like the queen bee in a hive. The only aspect of humanity that remained was their desire. The most primitive parts of the human consciousness… reproduction and survival.”
“How did you stop it?” Maggie asked from her place by the door.
“We burned them,” Hauptmann said, his voice lowering. “And we will do it again. Come the morning, we will go back, the three of us. And we will burn them all.”
“We can’t.” Clay stared down at his hands, limp in his lap. “They’re our friends.”
“Not anymore. And we must do it. Should the infection spread… It could be devastating to the human population. To be honest, I thought they had all been destroyed. I was wise enough to run, you see. Once word was sent to Berlin, I knew a team would arrive. They would kill us all. I suppose we’re not so different from the infected subjects. We all want to live, do we not?”
Clay and Maggie looked at one another, neither able to divine the other’s thoughts. Clay imagined the ache in Maggie’s chest was the same as his own, the creeping realization that the ones they had known and loved were truly gone. He tried to imagine watching Christine, even the thing she had become, burning alive before him, and squeezed his eyes shut against the image. It lingered, the blackening skin, the cracking scales of her flesh revealing burning red beneath.
“It’s horrible, I know,” Hauptmann said. “But it must be done. You will stay here tonight, rest. Prepare yourselves. Tomorrow will be a difficult day for us all.”
He and Maggie had spoken very little after excusing themselves from Hauptmann’s home to find food. It was strange seeing the village going about its business while, somewhere in the jungle beyond, their friends and lovers went about their dark business.
“I can’t do it. I won’t,” Maggie said as they sat at a picnic table outside a cantina. Clay was pushing a burrito around with a plastic fork, nestled in a red basket lined by wax paper.
“Okay,” he said simply.
“We should go. Just leave.”
Clay nodded, staring at the flour tortilla as it came apart and revealed the ground beef and grilled onions inside. It was greasy and the way it glistened under the fading sun reminded him of the reflection off Christine’s gray-skinned body. He dropped his fork in the basket and rolled a napkin between his hands.
“I won’t leave her like that,” he said, meeting Maggie’s eyes. “For all I know she’s in pain. Even if she’s not, Hauptmann’s right. We can’t let them escape. You saw how fast it took Justine.”
“Yeah, I did,” Maggie spat back, the bitterness in her voice sharp and pained. “But that doesn’t mean I want to set her on fire.”
“Like I said, you don’t have to go.”
Clay stood and stretched, his hands in the small of his back.
“You stay behind tomorrow,” he said, straightening. “I’ll go with Hauptmann. When it’s done, I’ll come back and we’ll leave.”
“You’d kill them?”
“I don’t know what else to do, Mags!” He lowered his voice, seeing eyes turn to the American strangers in the village. “It’s not like we can call the embassy, or their folks. I feel sick at the thought of doing this, but it’s got to be done. Just try not to make me think too much about it, because I hate myself enough for both of us, okay?”
Maggie was slack-jawed as she stared up at him from the bench. She looked down, then back at Clay, her eyes steelier than before.
“Fine. I’ll wait until you get back. Then we’ll go home.”
They marched through the jungle, Christine in the center, the rest in a circle around her. All seven moved in time, their footfalls precisely mirroring one another, bending and twisting gracefully through the foliage. They ignored the trail. Christine led them, reaching out to the village and sensing the four hundred souls preparing for bed or drinking in the cantina.
The Justine-drone emerged from her cocoon and descended into the pleasure of her obedience and the collective mind of her brother and sisters. There had been time enough to welcome her properly, impaled by the Stephen-drone’s phallus while her sisters had caressed her, and her long, slender tongue lapped at the rubber skin of her siblings. When they had shared in her climax, and then another, Christine had ordered them forward, their bodies glistening under the moonlight that filtered through the high canopy of the jungle.
Around them, the wildlife fled, detecting something off about these creatures. Christine could feel their simple thoughts, but her focus lay on the village below, rapidly approaching. It was faint, but she could find Clay’s mind in the babbling chorus. She could not divine his thoughts precisely yet, but she would. She would feel him submerged into the pool of their thinking and be born anew in it. And she would give him such bliss. His terror was obvious, and Christine believed something else colored his emotions, but it was dark and unpleasant and Christine discarded the unpleasant aura. Soon, he would only know happiness.
When they broke through the line of trees where the jungle began, Christine paused and the drones stopped in time with her, awaiting further instruction. When they were left to their own thoughts, she could hear tender worship from them. Pure love and awe radiating from them, and that worship warmed her, made her whole.
She scanned the roofs of the squat buildings that served as the village’s homes and shops, tracing a path with her eyes for each of them to follow. She found the nebulous consciousnesses of those already sleeping and, with the merest thought, ordered the drones forward. They would move from house to house, creating more in their image. The ones who slept would be the easiest targets. When those had been assimilated, they would move en masse to the other homes and baptize more into service to the queen.
With a nod, five of the drones started for the village, their bodies moving with an agile sexuality. Christine could not resist a smile of pride, and imagined looking over a sea of these hooded drones, all erased and reprogrammed with two needs - pleasure and service to her.
The drone beside her was curious, she sensed, and Christine reached into its mind and caressed its thoughts, reassuring it that it was serving well. She had a goal in mind for it. A conversion as reward. Despite the rubber’s amnesiac qualities, emotions lingered, and Christine preferred to foster love between the drones rather than cast it aside. She showed the drone what she most desired and promised it would be hers forever.
“Show her,” Christine said aloud, a gesture of emphasis. They were beyond words, yet she still found pleasure in the way her tongue moved when she spoke, the sweet sounds her lips made. “Enjoy her.”
She could feel the drone’s joy, and it shivered in excitement. It spoke, it’s voice wet and bubbling as it issued from the slit in its otherwise-smooth face.
“Maggie,” it said.
The doors of the village’s homes were rarely locked, and the drones followed their designated paths, slipping unheard inside those where families slept. It was easy for the drones to stand in glimmering darkness beside beds where the dreaming villagers lay, brushing their cheeks with corruptive fingers. They stood attentively nearby, urging husbands and wives to turn to one another as the ooze covered them, formerly passionless couples now loving with abandon as their faceless benefactors stood watch. When the infection had spread completely over their targets, the drones would move to the next house assigned to them. In a matter of minutes, their number had doubled.
Unaware, Clay sat outside Hauptmann’s home, staring up at the stars. It was overwhelming and humbling to see the breadth of the universe spread above him, unspoiled by the lights of a city. He had found a measure of peace, convinced that his painful work in the morning was a sin of necessity. His heart was hollow, his emotions cut off from him by design. He could not allow himself the luxury of feeling or else it would consume him.
In the distance he heard the moans of passion, and managed a smile. Despite his own locked-away sorrow, he could appreciate the sounds of two people who knew nothing of the bizarre workings of the facility in the jungle, finding a stolen moment of happiness.
When another cry of lust followed the cool nighttime breeze to Hauptmann’s door, Clay felt the first twinge of panic. One couple joined in sexual congress was natural, another and… yes, another still… told him something was amiss. He stood quickly, rushing inside and throwing a wooden bar over the door behind him.
“Hauptmann!” he called, casting open the door to the old man’s bedroom.
Hauptmann was sitting up, his spindly legs dangling from the edge of the bed almost comically. He wore a long shirt and shorts that emphasized his slight frame. He was adjusting his glasses taken from his bedside table when Clay appeared in the doorway.
“I hear it,” he said. “Follow me.”
Clay did. Hauptmann led him outside, leaning the wooden bar that secured the door against the interior wall, ushering Clay to follow as they scanned the dark street for signs of movement. The sounds of passion were louder now, coming from at least four separate sources.
“They’re reproducing themselves,” Hauptmann hissed in his Germanic inflection, “We have to be quick.”
A small shed, the tin walls and roof red with rust, was chained closed just behind the house. Hauptmann fumbled with a keyring, finding the small key that opened the lock. The door swung open with a squeal and Hauptmann disappeared into the pitch of the shed’s interior.
“Here,” he said, shoving a heavy gas can into Clay’s hands. It shifted its weight in his grip as the gasoline sloshed inside the can. Hauptmann emerged from the shadows and pointed a twisted finger to a nearby house, no more than three rooms by the size of it. “Start there.”
“Burn it!” Hauptmann cried. “Burn every one or all is lost!”
Clay looked at the real terror etched on Hauptmann’s creased face and gritted his teeth.
“Matches?” he asked.
Maggie sat at the head of the bed, her knees curled to her chin, arms wrapped around her slender legs. She listened to the sounds of the village, the moans and the sharp cries of fear, quickly silenced. She tried to focus on the metallic squeak of the bedsprings as she rocked on the ancient mattress, choosing to hear only that and not the sounds of the village falling to pieces around her.
“Maggie,” the voice said, bubbling and thick and so familiar and strange all at once.
She looked up to see the drone enter, its body black and slick and wet as the voice had been. The slit that served as a mouth strained to form the words.
“It’s me. It’s Justine.”
A barking sob sprang from Maggie’s lips and she cupped her hand over her mouth to secure it before another could escape. And still she rocked, faster now, tears squeezing from the corners of her eyes and tracking down her cheeks.
The drone stopped short of arm’s length. Its hands ran over its flat belly, over the bulbous breast shapes on its chest, over its shoulders.
“I love you,” it said.
“You’re not Justine!” Maggie screamed, shutting her eyes in an attempt to deny the existence of this thing.
“I am. I love you, Maggie. Please. Come with me.”
It extended a hand and Maggie could see the ooze swirling in its palm. It was like the rainbow pools in a pothole left behind by a sudden rain, beautiful and poisonous.
“We’ll be together, Maggie. Forever. And you’ll be so happy I promise.”
The way the words tumbled rough and moist from the thing’s mouth hurt Maggie’s soul, and yet she felt she could hear Justine’s voice. Perhaps it was optimism, or a reaction to the crippling fear twisting inside her. Regardless, a locked door in her mind opened the slightest bit. Behind that door was a wild tangle of possibility, of hope.
“You and me?” she asked.
“Together,” the drone replied, no more resembling Justine than any other drone would. “Just take my hand and be with me. Please, Maggie. I love you.”
Maggie watched her hand raise and move toward the open palm of the drone, whimpering as a resolve to live anonymously and changed weighed heavier in the scale of her judgment than the thought of living without Justine.
She seized the drone’s hand and squeezed it, feeling the goo squirt between her fingers and quickly coat her hand. It tingled, and Maggie thought for an instant that it really did feel pleasant.
The drone pulled Maggie close and wrapped its arms around her, her clothes dissolving until her bare skin pressed against the drone and she leaned to its featureless face, opening her mouth to take the oil-slick tongue into her mouth. Maggie felt the ooze tickling her as it flowed over her skin, into her as her leg slid up the drone’s thigh. She moaned at the heat between her legs and sank to her knees, her clothes dissipated and her body completely covered by the viscous substance.
Maggie felt her body’s need as an immediate and desperate thing, clinging to the drone’s legs and running her tongue up the smooth thigh until she found the slit between its legs.
‘I love you,Maggie,’ she heard, and it was Justine, her words in Maggie’s mind. ‘We all do.’
Maggie’s tongue parted the tight seam and she moaned against the rubbery skin of her former lover, the taste of her as blissful as the intense connection she felt to Justine and, yes, the others. She understood that what coated her was love and need and perpetual joy and she embraced it, feeling the shuddering pleasure of Justine. The Justine-drone gripped Maggie’s head as she had before, holding her face to her slit as the slippery canal discharged its sticky lubrication and Maggie drank it in, filling herself with it.
Three of the houses were burning now and it was spreading, leaping from roof to roof. The image of blackened husks cracking and revealing red molten skin beneath haunted Clay once more, but he shook his head to banish the image. Behind him, Hauptmann tottered on his cane, pointing a twisted finger to the cantina.
Clay followed his finger to find her, walking bare-footed in the center of the street. She was gorgeous in her exaggerated physiology, gray-skinned with shades of black at her lips and nipples and sex. She placed one foot directly in front of the other, her hips wagging as she walked toward them.
“Clay,” she said, smiling. “Come to me.”
Hauptmann took a step forward and Christine stopped, retreated a step.
“She has to be destroyed!”
Clay closed his eyes and sighed. He knew, had known all along, he would not be able to burn Christine alive. He simply cared about her too much, but knew she could not continue this way. She was a disease now, a virus that threatened more than this village.
“Don’t touch her!” Clay shouted, turning on Hauptmann and shoving the gas can, now half-empty, into his sunken chest. “I won’t hurt her!” He offered Hauptmann a wan smile, and whispered quietly. “I can’t hurt her.”
Hauptmann made no protestations as Clay backed away and turned to face Christine. The light from the fires made her wet skin shimmer with yellow flecks. She was otherworldly and beautiful. Even before he touched her, Clay could feel her essence worrying at the edge of his thoughts, like a dog chuffing along a fence, looking for a way inside.
She opened her arms to him, a patient, waiting embrace so unlike the vivaciousness of the old Christine, the impulsiveness and quick passion. This was a creature of eternal awareness, unmoved by the rush of the present. Even the destruction of her drones registered as a nuisance, a problem to be solved through sheer numbers. Clay could feel her insistent presence in his head, assuring him he would find peace in her arms. The thought made him smile, despite himself.
He slipped into her arms and held her face, staring into the black pools of her eyes. The ooze spread over his hands and up his arms, an eager infection that left his skin bare as it erased hair and clothing to reveal him and paint him fresh.
“I will always, always love you,” he said, and she smiled.
“Then kiss me,” she replied.
He leaned to her, met her lips and felt her slippery tongue push past his lips and coat his mouth with the viscous ooze. His body trembled with the pleasure it brought, and his embrace tightened. He felt his body exposed now, his clothes nearly eaten away by the greedy fluid, coating his body and setting his nerves on fire. His cock was hard and aching with the need for Christine, and he felt himself drifting into her, into the pool of minds that she stood above.
“No!” she cried out suddenly, her hands on his shoulders, pushing him away.
Clay held her tight, partially out of his need for her, his absolute lust to bury himself in her folds, to feel her pussy wrap around his shaft and take the length of him. But he could also feel the splash of the gasoline as Hauptmann swung the can, splashing them with fat droplets.
“I love you,” Clay repeated.
“You can’t!” Christine cried, squirming slickly in his arms, but he held her, even as the rain of gasoline stopped and that meant the hard part was coming.
Clay clung to Christine and the fragment of his mind that resisted her instruction - to release her, to save her, she was his queen! The heat was sudden and sobering, and Clay’s embrace wavered an instant and, for just that second, he thought she would escape. Part of him wanted her to escape. Then he found his other hand and locked his grip, wrapping her up in sticky flesh and flame.
The last thing he saw before the flames took them was her eyes, pale and blue and afraid, no longer the empty darkness. Perhaps it was imagination, synapses projecting his fondest desire in the moments before he burned, but he tumbled into the darkness with a final thought - ‘I saved her…’
The drones, over twenty of them, slipped back into the jungle as dawn approached. At the loss of their queen, many had frozen, lost without her instruction.
Many had never felt the pleasure of communion with the hive, burned by the old German before they could connect fully. Most of the villagers woke to a dawn that left behind only questions. Their village was nearly destroyed, a large portion of the population dead or missing. Hardened pools of some black substance were left behind, and the German warned the villagers to burn it until it was ash. A disease, he called it.
The drones marched through the brush and sang a silent dirge for the loss of their queen. The Justine-drone’s voice was mournful, but interrupted the steady bleat of sadness, introducing a new thought into the collective that was examined, found acceptable, and broadcast until it became the truth of them.
The Justine-drone faltered slightly, the weight of the cocoon rescued from the German’s house weighing her down, but other drones joined her, raising the cocoon to their shoulders, carrying it like a royal litter, for that is what it was. Inside, the one that had been called Maggie incubated, her body developing within the rubbery sac. She could feel the minds of the drones call out to her, in one voice and with perfect love.
‘Queen,’ they sang to her, and she smiled. She accepted their song and answered them.