This is where our war begins.
Our struggle against the sky.
Against our bones.
Our war with the past and the future.
Our war with the ones we left behind.
The people we used to be.
So here’s to us, the warmongers.
Trying to reclaim our humanity.
Children of Oblivion
So silvery, so faint. It crept like hot breath on windowpanes.
Starting in the cargo hold, leaking from vacuum-sealed containers… shifting like a whisper, it began to move. A barely audible sigh hissed between cracks in the compressed gas canisters meant to keep them safe and secure. The microscopic trespassers drifted over the metal hull of the plane, slipping into the air vents, no motivation or direction to their movements.
This was not their place. They were incomplete, destined for labs across the sea for further testing. But the insulated transport unit was faulty. It let them escape, let them wake up in the hot belly of the plane. Coaxed from their cold sleep, they were caught by air currents, patterns of movement starting to slowly come to them.
Tiny electrical impulses keeping them close together, they swarmed, silver and dusty.
Hours passed and the plane still rumbled through the sky, metal skin rattling against the turbulence outside. Still the swarm stayed awake, finding paths in the air. Condemned by their infancy, some were distanced from the horde, and losing their momentum, they went dark. The rest carried on.
Half-composed code murmured to them, a lullaby that kept them thinking artificial thoughts. They had the ability and the understanding of what they were meant to do, but that was only half of the equation. They lacked orders. They lacked the vital bits of programming that might tell them where to go. They were designed o fix problems, but they themselves were premature.
They began to hunt, began to look for a problem. The cold, dark, lifeless metal around them… something kept it in the air. Something gave it ‘life’, kept it moving and groaning.
Some spread out, began to seep into the pores and the gaps between the metal. They found familiar traces of copper wire and silicon chips. And the rest kept drifting, searching for the chemical scent.
They found it near the mouth of their metal host. Hot bodies teeming with life, with stress and exhaustion and hormones and the carbon template of life. But neither were sick. Neither were broken, neither needed fixing. Without something to fix, the silver drifters were lost.
Their code told them nothing. They were malformed, incomplete.
Hot bodies beckoned. There was nothing for them to fix… but maybe there was a way to make it better all the same. There was a great hot beast around them, metal and copper and silicon. An engine-tune that sounded to them like a heartbeat. They knew nothing else what they flawed codes told them, and the codes told them to fix.
Fix. Fix. But nothing is broken… fix. Heal. Change.
Change it, make it better. Fix to make it better.
Hot flesh, blood, bone… protein, collagen, chemicals…
Steel, silicon, aluminum… graphite. Resin.
It can be better.
Silver and pink. Metal and flesh.
They drifted with purpose now. Filaments the size of molecules guided them, steered them towards the hot blood and cold metal. Inside them, imprinted in the flecks of silicon acting as their brains, they started thinking. Snippets of code rearranged to give new life, as they would give new life to the dead husk surrounding them.
Silvery dust. They would go unnoticed and they would make it better.
Metal and flesh.
Fix, make it better.
Two hours. It was two hours he’d counted since the copilot started coughing.
“Are you sure you are alright?”
Another cough. Then a shrug. “Kurwy nędzy… probably just a cold. My wife had one last week.” Weak laughter sounded in the cockpit. “She joked about me flying away so I wouldn’t get infected.”
He frowned, but kept from voicing further concerns. “We will be back home soon enough. Take a sick day after this.” The copilot chuckled, and for a little while the coughing subsided. They went back to watching the dark night skies outside, and the faint hints of sunrise on the horizon, painting the clouds with purple and orange.
The plane flew in peace, and the pilot tried not to worry about the rasping feeling tickling his throat.
Fixing… fixing… it will take time.
Keep the system safe. Immune. Isolated. Free from harm, from interference. Safe from infection.
Away. It must be kept away.
Codes in the microchips murmured, hushed in silence and darkness as bytes traveled the intimate pathways between each silvery half-life. Their search for silicon continued until they found at last the distant churning whispers, so much louder than their own pulses of life, keeping the metal behemoth suspended in the air.
Softly they set in. First, to protect their dear host… quarantine it. Isolate it from harm, from foreign malicious agents and influence. To keep a weak system safe, it must be guarded from outside threats. Veiled, kept secret, distanced from the masses to prevent the infection from spreading.
They set into Patient Zero’s composite skeleton and into the hot, hot bodies that held such promise.
Safe. Keep it safe, let it grow…
Let it become better.
“…what the hell??”
“What? What is it?”
He could barely talk without feeling like his throat was going to tear. He saw fear on the pilot’s face.
“The… the GPS. It’s gone dark, the plane’s whole navigation system is dark!”
The lights in the cockpit started dimming. All around them they could feel the plane shudder and start to turn the opposite direction the pilot was steering.
A hacking cough rose in the copilot’s throat, lungs empty of air and weak breaths gusting past his teeth. The pilot snapped to look at his companion, a look of horror crossing his face.
“…what is it?” the copilot wheezed.
Hand clamping on his mouth, the copilot shivered, drawing back his palm a moment later to find blood staining his skin. Expression fearful, he glanced at the pilot. No words found their way from him, but his eyes widened at the sight of crimson leaking from the pilot’s nose, even as he fought to regain control of the plane.
The lights kept dimming until the cockpit lay saturated in darkness.
Still the silenced plane flew on.
“…Hey, Madeline? We uh, we have a problem.”
“Oh, fantastic. What is it this time?”
“…that cargo plane from Poland. I didn’t hear the pilot check in and the schedule says it was supposed to land fifteen minutes ago.”
“What?? And you only just noticed this now??”
“Hey, give me a break, I’ve been working overnights for three days… man, that’s not the point! The plane’s missing.”
“Shit. Give me that. Lot Airlines flight 74, this is Logan International Airport. Do you read, over?”
“…I told you. They’re not answering.”
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Call maintenance, have them make sure the problem’s not on our end. I’ll alert security, we’ve got a lost plane. How long ago was their last check-in?”
“A little under two hours ago. They were starting to cross the Atlantic.”
“They’ve been dark for two hours?? Jesus Christ.”
“What were they even carrying? It didn’t say on the manifest.”
“Don’t know. Some medical tech or something. Does it really matter?”
“Well, if the plane’s gone… maybe it crashed, or maybe it was terrorists…”
“Yeah, I don’t think terrorists are going to attack a plane out of Poland.”
“…it could happen.”
“Just call maintenance, Becca! And keep an ear out in case the flight radios in!”
“Shit. This is really not what we needed today.”
In the darkness, with only moonlight letting them make out their surroundings, the pilot wondered why they weren’t panicking. He felt nervous, worried… but the plane was no longer in their control and their communications and navigation systems were dark.
They should be panicking, but the copilot had been reduced to staring out the window, silence broken only by his coughing. The pilot had been mindlessly flicking the blank navigation readout for the past twenty minutes. Time seemed to swallow them, their thoughts dazed and blurry.
What is happening to us?
The pilot rubbed his hand beneath his nose, feeling sticky hot fluid. In the dim light he could see no color, but he knew it was tinted red all the same.
Tired. He felt so tired… and burning. His insides were tingly and burning, sensation on his extremities fading away just as his breath grew more raspy with every passing minute.
We’re… going to die here.
They were going to die, the pilot was certain – and they had no idea why.
Fix. Fix. Make whole, complete, better.
Steel married to flesh. It would be so much stronger than the lifeless husk soaring above the clouds. And the fervent but fragile hot-spots of flesh… they would contribute. Their flesh, their cells, their protein bonds, they had the power to grow.
They just needed… encouragement.
So the silver dust set into the blood vessels, the bones, the organ walls. Touching filaments of sterile metal to the membranes of cells.
Grow better. Grow strong.
On the outside, the rest of the silvery trespassers were waiting. They held carbon and silicon and epoxy in their grasp, preparing to stitch the living to the dead to make something more alive than either. It would be slow until they found the best technique. But they would learn to propagate themselves further, and they would guide the plane until it was strong.
There are more elsewhere, yes?
The whispers in the great metal beast’s silicon brain told them this. Fragments of code gave evidence of the existence of other weak ones, ready to be fixed and made better. They would spread out to follow the hums in the air, drifting until they latched upon another incomplete husk.
Hush now, hot-bodies of bone and blood. Hush, metal monster without a heartbeat to call its own.
Let us fix you.
“Just wondering… flight 74, the plane from Poland. Did they ever figure out what happened?”
“Dunno. Problem wasn’t on our end, I know that much. They just went silent and never showed up.”
“…how long since they declared it missing?”
“Has to be a month at least. Did you hear about the others?”
“What?? What others?”
“More planes. All over Europe. Almost two dozen of them by now. Germany, Poland, Switzerland… most of them passenger planes, though I heard there was this one military jet that went down over Italy. Silent just like the one we lost, never heard from again… media thinks it’s terrorists.”
“But you don’t. I know that tone.”
“…maybe. I don’t know. But two planes out of New Jersey went missing last week. Both from an airfield that takes international flights from Europe.”
“Yeah. I don’t know what the hell is going on. Just… we should probably drive to see your parents. I don’t feel like going anywhere near an airport right now, let alone setting foot on what might be a flying death trap.”
“Hey, no complaints here. I just keep thinking about the people who went missing…”
“Yeah, I know. It’s pretty damn stupid, but… I hope they’re okay.”
What was left of him wanted to scream.
First to leave him was sight. Then sensation in his arms and legs… the heat in his chest and stomach intensified. He struggled against the seat, feeling something heavy press around him, swallowing him whole. Each breath felt like ash and smoke in his throat.
Everything blurred together – sound, touch, taste. In the darkness it was overwhelming. Worst was the smell.
Blood, oil, burning skin and metal… and there was something that might be pain. A tingle that shot through his body with every faint pulse of life left inside of him. He felt so heavy, so distended.
Words rasped between his teeth, trying to force their way past his fattened tongue, the clotting blood seeping from his gums. Every so often a burst of feeling returned to his fingers, only enough for him to feel sprained and bloated. Then the smell came crashing back… a stench suffocating him in his moments of consciousness.
Sanity had long since left him, leaving hollow horror in its place. Some remote part of his brain understood the twisted, abnormal sensation burying him… or at least, understood that something terrible was happening.
Still he heard the distant sounds of the plane’s turbines churning. They were kept in the sky, somehow…
His deformed chest tightened, a jolt of pain splintering his ribcage.
He wanted so badly to scream… but when he opened his mouth, all he felt was blood bubbling out of his lungs.
I’m going to die I’m going to die I’m going to die-
A near-silent hiss of a scream finally escaped past his lips.
Fixed. At last it is fixed.
The silver dust coalesced in the belly of the infant behemoth.
On to more? Yes, yes. Already there are others beginning to live, be better, more whole. But there must become more.
All around them they heard a new heartbeat churn.
We are fixed, we are fixed. We will fix them.
Even in spite of their microscopic forms, they could still sense their accomplishment as a whole.
Flesh and metal, steel and bone. Better, stronger, perfect.
The chemicals and the protein bonds mixed with inorganic threads told them all they needed to know.
Fix them, keep them flying.
There were others, other half-living husks waiting to be healed.
Fix them. Fix them.
The silver dust left the plane, carried on the wind, watching for only a moment as the metal creature flew on its own. Brand new wings curved in ways unsuited to metal, turning and shifting as an animal would. A groan sounded in the sky, a metallic roar to signal the birth of new life.
Perfect. Perfect. It is healed. It is fixed.
Precious life, strong and better now. On to the others.
Silvery and faint, the metal parasites swarmed out across the sky to make more monsters.
Considering that the first chapters I wrote for Children of Oblivion are not very good at immediately conveying what kind of world I’ve set up for the story, I thought the story could use a prologue. It doesn’t reveal much more than the first few chapters, but it does set the mood of the book pretty well, I think.