Yew and Me
Chapter Six — Seventy-two hours earlier —
Slowly Yseult became aware that the pain of which she had been dreaming was very real and her head really did hurt. She tried to open her eyes but it was too much of an effort so after a couple of twitches she gave up and allowed her body to relax once more.
“Lina, I think this one’s coming too!” A voice called out, adding to the pain in Yseult’s head and causing her to twitch involuntarily.
She managed to get her right eye, open. It was gummy and what she saw through it was consequently blurred. She tried to wipe it with the back of a hand but her wrists seemed to have been tied. She shuffled both to get more comfortable and to test her bonds... Her wrists were secured behind her back and there were cords around her ankles. She also seemed to be sitting on the floor with her back against the wall.
A young woman bustled over to were she was sitting and stooped down beside her. “Alright bitch, talk.”
“Hello!” Yseult answered taking the instruction far too literally for the woman’s liking.
“Alright, smart ass, lets start with just who the pair of you are!” The voice was brusque and not a little hostile and the Russian that the woman spoke was heavily accented. British? No, American!
Yseult looked at her keeping her face free from expression or even emotion—a very easy task for a drone. Then keeping her voice level said. “This drone is a Security-unit.”
“Bullshit!” The woman barked in English before switching back to her tortured version of Russian. “So how do you explain this? Miss ‘Security-unit’?”
A hand moved into Yseult’s field of vision, it held the shiny disc that had been dislodged during the fracas. As she couldn’t explain it she remained silent.
The American woman slapped her across the face. The blow was not hard but, given the intensity of Yseult’s headache, was enough to cause her to wince.
“Talk, you fucking zombie-bitch!” The American screamed hysterically in English.
Another woman stepped forward, she was older than the American and hers was the educated voice that the Irish girl remembered from the corridor. “That’s enough, Nicol!” The woman said very quietly.
“Yeh... Well...” The American muttered but never-the-less rose and moved out of the way.
The new face was squarer and more than a little care-worn, belonging as it did to a blue-eyed ash-blonde. The eyes regarded Yseult for a few moments and then the woman smiled and began to dab at the drones injuries with a damp flannel. “I’m Doctor Lina Zuyeva: I’m a geologist so I’m no threat to you. I belong here but you don’t, do you?”
She paused to let the statement sink in but when Yseult still didn’t answer she continued with a quiet patience. “Look, we know that the pair of you are intruders, one of my people has found your exosuits in the storeroom next to maintenance airlock 7/4.” She chuckled. “Don’t worry, we haven’t taken them!”
Even though she was a drone, Yseult’s mind suddenly experienced a brief period of turmoil. She needed to complete her mission but couldn’t escape as there were nine of them, including Svetlana. Her mission was her only concern so there was only one way left for her to proceed. “How did you know that we were not Security-units?”
Lila smiled at her and held up the disc once more. “Simple! These things just don’t come off—they’re part of a control device that is implanted deep in the brain. And besides, you haven’t got a data port behind your left ear.”
Yseult nodded the mission seemed to have been doomed from the start, not that it had lasted very long, anyway. It was time to salvage what she could so smiling, she laid her metaphorical cards down onto the non-existent table. “I am Yseult Ward, Lady Yew sent us to discover just what is going on here.”
The Russian woman nodded. “You are two of Lilith’s drones, aren’t you?”
“We belong to her!” Yseult confirmed quietly. Suddenly she looked around. “Where is my sister? Is she alright?”
Lila looked surprised. “I didn’t think that you things ever bothered about each other.” She shook her head as if to clear the fatigue that was creeping up on her. “Sorry, that was rude. She’s still unconscious—that was a nasty blow that she took but Yuri,,,” She gestured towards the tall, grey haired man who was glaring at her from the other side of the room... “was an army paramedic and he reckons that there’s nothing broken.”
Suddenly Yuri lumbered over towards her and growled. “Fuck this, Lila, ask her what they were doing with my Svetlana.” He leaned over and glowered, trying to look as menacing as possible.
Unfortunately for him his effort was wasted for drones cannot be intimidated physically or mentally. Instead Yseult tried to rise but Lila placed a hand on her shoulder to indicate that she should remain where she was.
Lila, who was clearly in charge, turned towards the man. “Go and look after your wife, Yuri.” Then after he had moved away, muttering under his breath as he went, the Russian woman turned back to the drone. “Yes, Yseult, why were you taking Svetlana to be processed?”
Yseult met her gaze and answered without any trace of emotion. “Our mission is to discover as much about the events that are unfolding within the Tsiokolski Facility as we possibly can so that our Mistress can determine what course of action to pursue. Work-unit 4a-56 had informed us that she was to take the Svetlana-unit to be processed in two hours and twenty-three minutes and we saw this as an ideal opportunity to inspect the processing methods being employed here so we informed Unit 4a-56 that the timings had been advanced.”
“Why you cold-hearted bitch!” Yuri rumbled as he climbed to his feet once again. “Is that all my wife meant to you... An opportunity?”
Yseult thought that it would be better to be conciliatory so she continued. “The woman was clearly upset and as we could not prevent her conversion without endangering our mission we thought it merciful to bring forward the conversion and end her suffering.”
By Yuri’s reaction and the hostile nature of the muttering that suddenly erupted around the room it became clear to Yseult that the intended kindness had been misinterpreted. The pain and confusion that racked these people was palpable and made her glad that she was a drone and that Mistress had removed all of her doubt and uncertainty.
“She’s just a mind-fucked drone!” Lila said sharply, the obscenity sounding distinctly odd when spoken by her. “They can’t think like we do, remember that.”
The outburst had done the trick and the level of hostility subsided once more. The Russian woman leaned over Yseult and began to remove her bonds. “Okay, you’re no threat. You might even be able to help us: if we can get you back to Lilith Yew, that is!”
The cords gone, Yseult stretched and climbed slowly to her feet looking around as she did so. This was the group that had attacked them in the corridor, she recognised many of the faces. Svetlana was also present, but why was she hugging Work-unit 4a-56 so closely? The Irish woman felt her brows flicker momentarily which was the closest thing to a frown that she permitted herself. There was clearly more going on here than she was as yet aware.
They permitted her to check on Ciara, who moved and whimpered slightly when Yseult checked her pulse. She was regaining consciousness despite the massive bruise that glistened behind her left ear. This was good news and the drone smiled inwardly. It is a popular misconception that drones are without emotion, they aren’t but conditioning increases their self-control so that they may appear to be so.
She stood once more and then moved over to the Svetlana-unit. No! Over to Svetlana! She corrected herself. Yuri muttered as he moved out of her way but Svetlana just stared at her, her expression although pained, lacked hostility. In contrast, 4a-56’s expression could only be described as being blank.
“I do not understand,” Yseult said quietly, her brow furrowing slightly as she spoke, “she sought to transform you into a drone, yet you show her affection.”
Svetlana’s eyes blazed. “Yes she was taking me to be converted and you think that I should hate her for it, do you, drone?” The fire died away leaving only sorrow. “How can I hate my own daughter?”
Suddenly Yuri was there, towering over them. “Look what they’ve done to our baby.” As he spoke his rage faded to reveal the agony underneath as he knelt down and threw his long arms around both his wife and daughter. A tear trickled out of the corner of his eye as he added. “She is only sixteen, how could they treat her so?”
Quietly Yseult moved away from the grieving family and took her place at Ciara’s side where, to everyone’s surprise, she reached down and gently grasped her sister’s hand and held it while she regained consciousness.
Lina Zuyeva, the Geologist, knelt next to the sisters. “I didn’t know that you drones felt emotion like that.”
Yseult gently stroked her sister’s hair as she answered. “The main emotion that we have is love. We love our Mistress dearly and we love all of our hive-sisters unconditionally but Ciara is my sister so I love her almost as much as I love Mistress Lily.”
Ciara suddenly recognised just who was holding her hand and gave her a beaming smile to which the other sister reacted by gently kissing her on the lips. When the kiss had ended Yseult turned back to Lina. “It is love that keeps a hive together but the other emotions, the destructive ones such as fear, hatred, jealousy, embarrassment and greed have all been expunged. We are better without them!”
“Pride?” Lina asked drily.
The drone glanced down at her sister. “Yes, we have pride because it is a form of love; I am proud of my Hive, proud of my hive-sisters, proud to be valued by Mistress Lily. Pride, like love, is a big part of who we are.”
Lina looked stunned: she had been led to believe that drones were unfeeling automatons yet here was one lecturing her about the value of love. She had been about to ask after ‘happiness’ but realized that her question had already been answered. Instead she smiled at Yseult and asked. “What about your mission, what do you plan to do next?”
“We will try to gain entrance to the Modification Centre by some other means because Mistress needs to know as much about the processes being utilized if she is to have any chance of countering Lady Karpova’s activities.” The voice was even and lacking in doubt, but then doubt too was a negative emotion that had no place in the heart of a drone.
Suddenly there was the sound of raised voices, of an argument and as Yseult turned to face the source of the disturbance she was surprised to see that Svetlana and Yuri were the ones shouting at each other.
“I need to become a slave!” Svetlana said, her voice determined.
“No! I forbid it!” Thundered Yuri.
“Really?” Svetlana sounded dismissive. “How else can I remain close to my baby? How else can I make sure that she is safe?”
The Ward sisters glanced at each other exchanging looks too subtle for outsiders to observe. They knew that Yuri would lose for what husband can prevail over a wife whose child is in danger? They had their way in and knew it.
The Modification Centre, when they gained entry, bore all the signs of being a hurried conversion of one of the medical rooms. Partly dismantled equipment had been moved over and stacked against one of the walls which had produced a clear space for the two austere-looking work-stations that squatted there.
The sisters had followed their original plan of marching in with Svetlana held securely between them. Work-unit 4a-56, Svetlana’s daughter, had proceeded them and together they had marched straight past the four Security-units who were on guard outside. Just as the Wards had suspected: you didn’t get challenged if you looked as if you knew what you were doing!
Once inside the centre, 4a-56 had led them to one of the matching stations where she stripped her own mother while the sisters held onto the woman’s arms. Other than looking pained, the older woman offered no resistance.
The Modification units looked rather like large old fashioned dentists chairs, but with straps and, like dental chairs, they were supported by a bank of ancillary equipment that had a couple of insectile arms sprouting out of it. As soon as Svetlana had been secured in the chair and all of the straps had been fastened, servos whirred as the chair itself adjusted the tightness of the restraints.
Then, as the sisters watched, the machinery began to run through a pre-set sequence of events. First of all a display screen suddenly flashed into life and displayed a simple message in English... “Unit Initializing, running diagnostics now.”
Predictably the little LED’s that dotted the various sections and sub-units began to flicker and flash as, one by one, and in rapid succession, they all changed from red or yellow to green. As soon as the last light had changed colour, the display screen told them that... “Station operating under normal parameters.” Then a few seconds later it changed to read... “Commencing enslavement routines.” Next, all of the little LED’s turned blue and the display changed to “Please stand by.”
The rest of the process was rapid and commenced with the sides of the chair’s wide headrest folding in and trapping Svetlana’s head completely. Suddenly a cup on a flexible tube snaked out of the machinery and covered her lower face: there was a pause during which the woman seemed to relax, her eyes becoming vacant. Then with the breathing mask firmly in place, there was a brief pause during which the infernal machine clicked and hummed until the process resumed.
One of the jointed metal arms straightened, twisted and repositioned itself before swinging across so that its end pressed itself against the centre of the woman’s forehead. Something new hummed, the hum slowly turning into a grinding scream akin to someone cutting through wood with a band saw... Blood trickled down as the victim’s eyes suddenly widened as her body tensed before relaxing once more.
The noise stopped and the arm withdrew, dropping a small disc of bone and flesh into the waste hopper. Svetlana was now sitting quietly and staring at nothing, the trepanned hole in her head being there for all to see and through it, her brain was visible.
The arm swung back and screwed a small fitting into the hole. The fitting was tubular, its end flush with her skin. The hole was now lined with a shiny metal sleeve.
The cutting arm, its task completed, swung back and the display on the screen suddenly changed to read “Fitting restraining bolt now.”
Simultaneously another arm swung out but this one grasped a slim item about three inches long almost all of which seemed to be little more than paper-thin blade. The arm inserted the device into the hole, the flat blade slipping neatly between the hemispheres of the woman’s brain. There was a loud click and the arm withdrew revealing an oh so familiar metal disc complete with a shiny blue stud in its centre. The screen display changing to once again read: “Please Stand By.”
The cutting arm swung out once more and repeated the procedure by boring a hole into the mastoid bone behind her left ear and machine fitted it with a sleeve the same as before. This one, however was quite a bit larger.
The arm swung swung back and the display changed yet again, only this time it read read “Fitting guidance interface computer now.”
As it changed the grasping arm swung out again and inserted a stubby cylinder into the second hole and clicked it into place before swinging back to the resting position.
There came a series of clicks and clunks as the catches on the chair’s restraining straps fell open and the breath mask fell away. But although Svetlana was no longer restrained her only movement was the gentle rise and fall of her breasts caused by her breathing.
The screen however displayed a short sequence of messages beginning with “Basic control apparatus fitted and functioning normally.” This being followed by “Time needed for nanites to integrate control systems with brain—15 minutes.” Then: “Irreversible robotization has commenced.”
The final message, when it appeared was surreal. “System shutting down—Have a nice day!” This was replaced by a large innocuous smily-face emoticon that filled the screen and grinned at all concerned.
The Ward sisters looked at each other and Ciara made a face, while two white-clad Medical-units moved Svetlana from the chair and helped her move over to one of the recovery couches that were arranged to one side, here they helped her down onto it where she lay back and relaxed.
They couldn’t see into Svetlana’s head and so were unaware of the network of tendrils of metal and living flesh that nanobots—small microscopic robots—were spinning as they tunnelled through her brain to connect the various parts to the two devices that had been implanted. Svetlana was fading from existence, her place being taken by the emergent Work-unit 6g-27. Over the next few days, additions would be made, some by the injection of new devices but others by a small army of nanites that would move through her body modifying it as they went and preparing the woman so that she could be programmed for whatever role she was destined to carry out.
Only after they were sure that there was nothing else to see did the sisters turn and begin to march out of the Medical Centre. They didn’t get very far, not with their way being blocked by a row of black-clad figures; the only difference being that these Security-units were the real thing.
The sisters halted and looked around. When they saw that all exits from the room were similarly guarded they froze. Suddenly, from their right came the sound of a single person slowly clapping and as one their heads jerked around to face the source of the noise.
“Well done, girls!” Announced a smiling Madam Valentina Karpova as she walked towards them. “You avoided my security network for a whole five minutes. We’ve been tracking you ever since.” She placed a comradely arm around each of their shoulders before continuing. “Clever of you to talk your way out of the grasp of that rabble: you really impressed me, by the way!”
She was casually dressed in a high quality green velvet jump-suit, a high-fashion garment back on Earth. The green colour complimenting her ash-blonde hair. Her expression and actions were friendly but the glint in her ice-blue eyes was as hard as the very sapphires that they resembled.
“You are the Ward sisters, aren’t you? Two of Lilith Yew’s finest agents.” She looked at them in turn and named them both correctly, although whether or not this was a guess, the girl’s never knew.
Casually the slave mistress reached up and one at a time, plucked the phoney discs from the girl’s foreheads. “Now come along to my office, there’s someone that you should meet because Lilith needs to know about the threat that they represent.”
The office turned out to be the one that Governor Feoderov had called his own until a couple of weeks earlier. It was strategically placed occupying, as it did, part of the space above the row of airlocks. Because of its position the outer wall had three windows that overlooked the Cosmodrome and also gave a good view of the landscape beyond. The opposite wall was pierced by three even larger windows that looked out into the open space of the reception hall. Whoever had designed the block had been paranoid enough to believe that the Facility Commander needed be able to keep a close eye on things that happened within as well as without. Karpova had not yet grown tired of the views that all six windows afforded her.
She had escorted the Ward sisters up to her office, dismissed all but two of her own security-units. Then perching herself on the edge of her desk, she smiled at the Irish girls. “Listen, you two, I think that you will agree that it would have been easy for me to have had you strapped down and converted into a couple of hive-units totally loyal to me... A couple of restraining bolts would have negated Lilith’s conditioning along with the rest of your personalities.”
Woodenly the two women had nodded.
Karpova had smiled at their response. “Your Mistress sent you here to find out exactly what’s going on; I’m going to help you do just that! Lilith Yew might not realise it yet, but we are all on the same side!”
The Ward sisters were sceptical but remained silent. Karpova took this for agreement.
“Good!” She said and retuned their phoney forehead discs to them instructing them to glue them back on. As they did so she continued. “There is a man about to arrive who is a particularly unpleasant slave belonging to a thoroughly obnoxious and very powerful owner who is planning to take over the whole of this damned planet. Watch him and remember everything that he says and does. Don’t say anything yourselves, just behave as if you are two of my personal Security-units and the three of us just might get away with this long term!”
At that she swivelled herself off the desk, walked over to the com unit and rattled off quick-fire Russian at some unseen person. Almost immediately she gestured the girls over to one of the outside windows and indicated the black shuttle parked at one side of the Cosmodrome. “Watch and remember.” Was all that she said.
Presently a black clad figure descended its steps and began the long walk to the reception block with its airlocks. As he approached the sisters noticed several things about him: firstly that he was at least six foot three tall; secondly he walked with very short mincing steps and finally that he wore a night-black cape over his exosuit. Because of the distances involved, the walk had taken some time and afforded the observers more than enough time to complete their observations.
“That, ladies, is the redoubtable Doctor Sarn, he’s a surgeon, highly skilled but very conceited and has been totally corrupted by his Master. And like that Master he is a festering lump of spite and sadistic hatred: mark him well, ladies.” Ciara also marked the fact that there seemed to be genuine unease in Madam Karpova’s voice.
Sarn passed out of sight and into the airlock, presently they saw him walk, or rather mince arrogantly into the reception hall and and pause near a group of twenty or so women and five men who were waiting to board the final shuttle that was due to depart for Earth. The previous two, both carrying only men, had lifted about an hour before but, according to the announcements, there was a technical hold on the third.
Sarn carefully removed his helmet and for the first time the Ward sisters were able to get a look at his head and face. His hair was bleached almost white and worn long, although in deference to local gravity it was worked into the very same Martian Plait as was normally warn only by women or girls. His face was long, pale and thin while his expression was languid although the glint in his small bird-like eyes gave lie to this.
Casually he walked past the waiting group, inspecting the women carefully as he did so although he ignored the five men who waited with them. Gradually his mouth curled into a contemptuous, thin-lipped smile, then turning around he retraced his steps but this time he walked more slowly, his gaze often lingering on the faces or even upon some noteworthy bodily feature. At one stage he even licked his lips.
Suddenly he looked up at the window from which Madam Karpova and her newest pair of “Security-units” watched. Sarn gave the women a perfunctory nodded before heading for the stairway.
As he left the hall the speaker system burst into life and a woman’s voice rattled off a cheery announcement. “Good news, ladies and gents, Shuttle Three’s been cleared for take off and will lift for Earth within the hour. Please collect your bags and make your way out to the transport that will run you over to our Cosmodrome.”
By the time that Dr Sarn reached her office, Madam Karpova was seated behind her desk with the Ward Sisters standing at attention on either side. She looked up as he entered. “Doctor Sarn!”
“Lady Karpova!” He replied as he gave her a mocking bow: his tightly fitting exosuit rippling over well-defined muscles as he moved.
He walked stiffly over to her desk, his movements showed his displeasure at having to share a room with Karpova, although he purposefully avoided even looking at the four drones who never the less watched his every move.
“The group met with your approval, I take it?” Karpova asked curtly.
Despite himself, Sarn’s austere face broke into a blissful smile. “Oh yes,” he drawled in his high pitched voice, “Master will be most pleased with them especially after I have made a few little improvements.”
A little later that day the black shuttle touched down outside of the former King Faisal Facility. The pilot having announced that they were making an emergency re-entry due to a reoccurring technical problem. By the time that the passengers realised what was happening it was already far too late.