Beth sat behind her desk, wiped the back of her neck with a lemon-scented wipe and fought the overwhelming thump of her heart against her ribs. She had inherited the Science Desk after Linda went out for medical reasons. Stress-related, which was why Science Observation had employed women, due to their capability to handle workloads which were classified as being ‘etic’ in nature.
Beth typed in a request for a team to go and check it out. She added her own chain of requests in case anyone from Oversight wanted to know why an agent was authorising an op, along with all the available information to justify her decision.
Oversight operated on geological time, but Beth fought a shudder of apprehension when her request was approved with immediate effect. If they were willing to move on this, Beth thought, then we are in deeper shit than we thought. She lit up a cigarette, sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. In the dark of her thoughts, restless hobgoblins offered glimpses of possible outcomes and none of them put her at ease. She put in a request for a telepresent field model, and Oversight approved it without question. Beth ground out the cigarette, unplugged her tablet and started the long walk down to the Mirror Station. Twenty minutes, she’d be laid in a flotation tank and operating a unit similar to the ones used to liberate Venezuela, back when there were still menclaves to fight against. On cue, a message from her designated intimate came through on her wristband, Dominic, confirming their dinner reservation and she sent back a cancellation.
Mirror Station was quiet apart from Josie, who had on headphones as she ran diagnostics on the twelve tanks with a pair of haptic feedback gloves and a comical pair of goggles. She smiled at Beth until she saw her expression followed by the arrival of Oversight’s permission blockchain in both their email folders.
Beth started to unbutton her shirt and Josie activated the tank in front of them.
Nevada had gone dark.Not the state itself but what was housed there.
The contract went over the net, bids fell on it like carrion birds and the largest morsel went to a citizen militia called The Brujas. They were on the road within an hour, flying out of Carson on a C-130 they’d gotten cheap when they privatised the military. Four women and enough gear to start a war or end one.
Abigail was strapped into the webbing, eyes closed with her AA12 across her lap, the 32 round drum magazine resting between her knees as she watched the mission brief play across her contact lenses. A Science City, housed in a geodesic home in a ring of automated security to deter the curious and which housed ongoing projects for skunkworks and research. Nevada was assigned to Olivia Kurtz, an evolutionary biologist who had moved into the military and disappeared down the rabbit hole of unlimited budgets and limited oversight. Matriarchal military operations had a need for innovation and non linear thinking which made Kurtz a perfect fit.
Too perfect, Abigail thought.
She had no clearance for any details on the project although Oversight had authorised a telepresence agent to accompany The Brujas, and she would know something.
Abigail hoped she would know something.
Harriet was loading her XM25, a grenade launcher fitted with a rangefinder which made her launches accurate, sending 25mm explosive rounds into or onto whatever she aimed at. She had Chiappa revolvers on each hip with speedloaders mounted on magnetic strips all down her ballistic vest. Harriet had been in England when the Matriarch Act went live, had to fend off a mob of men with her father’s shotgun whilst holed up in her flat for three days. She had made her way to the US, and from there, into The Brujas.
Abigail knew Harriet cried in the night, but she knew better than to ask why.
Lauren ran diagnostics on her TrackingPoint .338, a precision guided sniper rifle which was her long gun at work. She had a Vector submachine gun attached to a plate on her back, which was what they agreed she would go in with. She was seventeen years old, found it funny how things were when there were more men around, had a tattoo of Solanas quotes across her back and did hundreds of press ups on her knuckles whilst making eye contact with the others until her arms gave out. Abigail liked her, she was as much a weapon as the guns they carried. It meant she needed the same amount of caution and experience to handle. She had buzzed her blonde hair to stubble, all the excess burned away until she was a series of lines and angles over anything soft or full.
The C-130 came in to land. Harriet opened the box and took out the drones, flicking switches and pressing buttons with a quiet smile on her face before tossing each one into the air and watched them dance in circles.
They flew out as the ramp lowered, and The Brujas followed them into the field.
Nevada Science City gleamed on the horizon.
Beth looked at the trio and felt relieved s07he was on the other side of the country, streaming all this with haptic sensors whilst sat in a tank of liquid information. She spoke slow, allowing for the slight transmission delay but she caught the knowing glances between the women and fought the slow roll of irritation in the pit of her stomach.
High school never ended.
It was six feet tall, moulded from smart plastic studded with pinhole cameras which projected images back onto the skin to produce perfect camouflage. Beth’s face was projected onto the blank canvas of its head, distorted like an Ed Gein trophy as The Brujas waited to get things going.
‘This is an Epsilon Clearance Directive and you are serving under an open contract to do the following.’
Lauren raised her hand.
‘You’ve lost contact with a place which does weird shit?’ she said.
The robot chuckled, a beat too fast and Abigail slipped a plug of chaw into the space between her gum and the cheek.
‘Our drones will show us anything external but what are we looking at in there?’ she said.
Beth’s mouth twisted into a grimace.
‘Biological in nature. We’re not expecting any epidemiological factors.’ Beth said.
Harriet hefted her grenade launcher and patted it with her left hand.
‘I’ve got stun and pacifying loads on here as well as smoke and flash. Blowing up buildings when we’re inside is a bad idea.’ she said.
Beth nodded over making herself look stupid by trying to make a joke. Get over there, get in and shut things down was the order of the day.
‘What about the automated systems?’ Lauren said.
Beth sent the data package from her tank and got a courtesy shutdown.
‘All down.’ she said.
They went out on foot, Beth finding the action of movement unsettling as she moved her limbs through the thick warm fluid of the tank and watched the Mojave unroll underneath her.
The geodesic dome shimmered and The Brujas activated the anti-glare modules on their contact lenses as they ran, trying to keep up with Beth’s diamond and carbon limbs.
Cue the montage.
There were two trees in the Garden of Eden.
Once the four of them were inside, Beth recalled her grade school theology, edited to remove gynophobia and misogynist references and how Adam just had to have a taste and got cast out of Paradise for it.
The Tree of Life.
The Tree of Knowledge.
No, it was The Tree of Knowledge of Good And Evil.
Kurtz had gathered a rich harvest underneath the dome. The conditions for growth were apparent once they were inside.
Their internal clocks, biological and digital were running faster than normal.
Harriet put the drones on point, and sent a shot of what they were seeing. The timer ran so fast each digit was a blur.
Beth sent the data through to Josie. Her computer screamed in alarm as a cease and desist bot asked her what the fuck she was playing at.
Josie looked up and thumbed in a message to Beth.
‘Time’s different in there. We’re not cleared to know how.’
Beth told the others who frowned and sent brief messages of concern and frustration to one another.
‘Fuck clearance, it’s intel if it fucks with our work.’ Abigail said.
The drones found someone.
A dense, teeming garden, vines which moved and throbbed like overworked arteries as they danced and tasted the air, glimpses of twisted anatomies in a riot of shades and textures. A pair of wide, lidless eyes peered at the drone from the branches of a white tree which bled green and pink sap.
A woman, long white hair clad in a stained unitard, her cheeks and chin daubed with drying stripes of black liquid.
Beth identified her as Kurtz and sent the information to The Brujas.
They moved into play, smooth as a barber shop shave. Harriet set the rangefinder on her launcher and popped stun and smoke ahead of them as they activated the filament filters in their nasal cavities and their lenses thickened to protect them from anything being blown back.
Beth was on the other side of the country.
The drones ran diagnostics as Kurtz grinned and raised her arms.
‘You’ve come to see my children, haven’t you?’
Her accent, smoothed over after decades of citizenship lent her question a chill quality. Beth streamed everything back with the implied question of what her objective was.
Kurtz gestured behind her as the trees shook with violent motion.
Beth activated the weapons systems on the robot, set them to passive and charged ahead, activating the micro jets in the base to launch herself into the air as ports opened in her core to fire munitions the size of marbles at the garden.
Kurtz threw her head back and screamed her savage joy into the air as the world exploded around her.
Her children came.
Some were smooth, wobbling like jelly, with elongated tentacles which shot off blue and green sparks of light on elongated limbs, bobbing like giraffes.
A pair of them were ophidian, another bristled with spines of dark fur as it ran on all fours, barking and showing several rows of needle teeth as ropes of saliva flew from its maw, hissing where they fell.
The smoke cleared and they stood there, staring at gobbets of smoking flesh and stray limbs with too many joints and fingers to look at.
Lauren spat on the ground and stared at Beth with genuine contempt.
‘What the fuck was that?’
Beth’s live feed was infected with information as superiors threw upper case questions at her and she wondered if she would have a career after it was over. She shut it down and turned to address The Brujas.
‘Enhanced morphogenesis. That’s all I know. She was allowed access to genetic materials with a view to developing them for military applications. I’m guessing the time dilation was artificial and deliberate.’
Harriet kicked a purple tentacle which slithered away and shook her head.
‘How do you make time speed up?’ she said.
Beth sent a command to the dome’s AI, and registered the shipment of sample materials, filtered by name and quantity.
Some of them had names she knew. Osmium. Neutronium.
The others escaped her knowledge, actual or otherwise.
‘In theory, there could be materials beyond the scope of the periodic table which might affect relativity.’ Beth said.
Abigail rolled her eyes and swept the barrel of the shotgun across the ruined garden ahead.
‘We’re still getting paid, right?’ she said.
Beth sighed, low enough that it didn’t transmit to the robot.
‘Yes, you’re still getting paid.’ she said.
A small cut on Lauren’s cheek, caused by a splinter of bone got covered by a dab of nanite gel and sealed but by the time it was sealed, something had happened.
Dr Kurtz loved all her children. Sealed in a period of accelerated time, generations being born, fighting, fucking and dying in a second, the most adaptive predators emerging to triumph, housed in bodies beautiful and powerful. Kurtz had injected herself with a stable artificial nervous system and neural bafflers in order to interact with them. She was a God to them, but not a kind one.
Her smallest child came into Lauren as a pilgrim to a tribe of savages. She was a true believer, determined to convert all she came across.
Evolution finds a way.
There used to be a t shirt slogan, before The Matriarchal Act enshrined it into policy.
The future is female.
Later, when things fell apart, Beth had a terrible, final observation.
The future might have been female, but people assumed something about it.
That it would be human.
(if you liked this, buy me a coffee https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett)