I looked up as soon as I heard the click of someone opening the door. I stood in silence in a jail cell, with three
blank concrete walls and steel bars for the fourth. Beyond that lay a room, the rest of the concrete walls, a wood chair,
and a solid steel door in the far wall. Hidden cameras---I knew where they all lay. I stood alone.
When the door opened, I turned my head to look. I stood straight with all possible patience. I half-expected him
to show up. I said, "Chief."
His tone sounded wary. I let
several moments pass before I said, "Does that mean you accept I'm who I say I am, sir?"
The Chief hesitated, then said, "You're half a meter taller. Your skin is blue. Your voice is deeper.
Your hair is gone. Your hands have seven fingers and they're not the fingers you started with. I can't accept
you're who you say you are without more to go on. Are you Deborah Warrum?"
I managed a natural-looking half-smile. "I suppose it still depends on what I tell you."
"You've already said a lot. Interviews. I've looked them over."
"But will anyone believe what I say, sir?"
"It depends. If I can figure out who you are..." He shrugged. "I am also here to help determine
if you're a danger to us or not. How can I tell that? You must convince me. Speak and tell the truth."
My turn to shrug. "I can do that. I
must do that."
awoke. My new eyes could see farther and deeper and with greater clarity than before. I could close a shield over
them, but I would never need to blink again.
my other senses, enhanced and rebuilt, provided more and better data than before. All this now passed through
the extra equipment within my skull, equipment better and more durable than the missing portions of my brain.
I looked over the great amount of knowledge pumped into both the new and old parts of my brain. I knew our history and
why we came here, the experiences of the two drones who survived the accident. I understood the requests for female
corpses that brought my body here.
I sat up---no
restraints---and looked down at myself. I found myself taller. A dark blue skin now covered me from head to toe,
a skin with a plastic sheen that concealed armor and an exoskeleton. I looked down at my hands. My hands
bore seven fingers, fingers that could grip with power or extend and perform delicate tasks. My feet still bore five
toes but I could use them as well as my hands.
I reviewed some of the changes. My muscles: modified, stronger and more durable. Joints: more flexible.
My skeleton: coated with a substance that made the bones almost unbreakable, or replaced with stronger substitutes.
My blood: a super-efficient clear liquid that carried oxygen and nutrients better, a small pump replaced my heart. My
lungs: reduced in size and existing just for purposes of verbal communication. Oxygen absorbed from small slits along
the sides of my torso, sealed and invisible when not in use. A supply within my body grew with time.
I found myself stronger, smarter, faster, more precise. I could endure great extremes of temperature, from near-zero
to blast-furnace hot. I could take more punishment. I found myself better, physical and mental, than before.
New memories filled my brain. Drones took much
from the stored memories of their predecessors. I shared the memories of three of those who died in the accident and
lesser portions of many more. I carried great knowledge of our history and technology. And through links in my
brain I could access anything I grew curious about. I could do any job required on our ship.
I needed to do a job. This review took a split second. I looked over at the next tables. Tweenatov and Devovan,
the two surviving drones, worked on a corpse each, assisted by mechanical arms. One corpse remained untouched.
I knew they worked on me first because my body arrived in better shape than the others and would revive easier.
I climbed down and felt a moment of disorientation, but that cleared and I stood steady. I left the Drone Room and started
to climb up the first knotted steel rope I found.
Moving along the guide ropes would be easier when the ship moved, no up or down. But I could climb. I climbed
up through the ship, past Storage and the damaged Engine section, until I reached the Communications Center, right below Navigation.
I found it a tight fit, intended for a maximum of two
drones at a time, crowded with just one. I found the microphone. I plugged into the circuitry and controls through
the nerve endings of my hands. But I needed the microphone in front of me. I activated the equipment, tuned to
the frequency we communicated with the humans on, and spoke, using my rebuilt lungs for the first time.
"All our demands are met," I said. "The metals and circuitry meet our needs. The corpses are acceptable.
We will depart in six of your days, plus or minus four hours. There will be no further communications."
Perhaps someday, some other ship from the Hive would come and undo the damage done by what we needed to do. But that
lay far in the future.
My voice sounded strange.
Now nodified to make the range of sounds needed for the subtle tones and mathematical patterns the drones of the Hive communicated
with, it sounded strange, unnatural, as if the voice remained silent a long time, when I spoke in the native language.
That didn't matter. It sounded identical to Devovan's
voice when she gave the original messages. They would not know a different speaker sat at the microphone---unless I
chose to let them know. I hesitated a moment, with the microphone still on. Then I uttered three one-syllable
code words and cut the circuit.
On the way out
from Communications, I passed a rough reflective surface. I looked at myself. The blue-skin armor, the hairless
head, the missing ears, the longer legs and arms, the smaller breasts and buttocks, the larger head, the thicker neck...I
presented a different appearance.
The eyes presented
the greatest variation. Golden, glowing, solid, no sign of pupils. A narrow fat oval, the one part of my original
skin exposed, looked different, pale gray and bloodless, even the lips. A smaller nose. Teeth, coated like the
rest of my bones.
None of it hurt in any way.
It felt natural.
But the nose retained the same
shape, something I always thought too long and thin for my face. It was me.
I knew who I was. I knew I was, despite it all, still Officer Deborah Warrum. And I remembered my assignment,
my duty to try to get away and report. I remembered everything.
I came in as soon as I heard news of the explosions at the Halbert Tower. I knew I wasn't dressed for duty---out
of uniform, wearing a low-cut gold dress that showed off my thighs, boots that accented my calves. I'd just spent part
of my day off having my hair curled and set. A banquet Bernie and I wanted to attend. I looked gorgeous, but I
did not look like the cop I was supposed to be.
But before I could change into a uniform, I was steered into the office of the Chief of Police. He sat at his paper-filled
desk and looked at me over his reading glasses, taking me in with one glance. He was a familiar face, from his sloppy
uniform to his close-trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. "Office Deborah Warrum?" was all he said.
I stood at close-to-attention. "Yes, sir," I said, "you wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes." He took off his glasses and leaned forward. "Six hours ago, a spacecraft of unknown origin
landed in the Halbert Woods. We cordoned off the area and imposed a news blackout."
"Sir, the explosion---"
He took a sheet of paper from his desk---he was a great believer in printed reports---and said, "We have their demands.
They destroyed the Halbert Tower to let us know they meant business."
The Halbert Tower was a dusty old memorial, commemorating the spot where Boat Number Five from the Mothership first came to
ground on Ormazd; Halbert was the man in charge of the boat, the city founder. Two hundred and fifty years and more
than five million people later, the city was large enough and prosperous enough to attract---who? I said, "The
news said a suspected terrorist attack."
what we wanted people to think, at least for now." He paused for effect, letting it sink in on me.
"But who is it?"
"We suspect this
craft is alien in origin." The Chief switched papers and said, "If we don't meet their demands, they will
destroy half the city in twelve hours. Ten hours, now."
That sunk in more. I whistled. He nodded. I said, "Sir, the Planetary Patrol---"
"They can't get here, no ships available, four days at most. We're on our own till then." He dropped
the paper and leaned back. "We've already decided to meet their demands. Most are simple. Some refined
steel, some other refined minerals. A bunch of electronic circuitry, no particular kind."
"They must know---"
"Yes, yes, that
we're an industrial center. All those things are available, and in the quantities they want. But there is one
oddity. And that's where you figure in."
I bit my lower lip. "Me, sir?"
"The oddity is they want six fresh corpses."
A bad feeling came over me.
The Chief went on.
"All women between age fifteen and forty standard. Healthy. Died in accidents, no severe damage, no autopsied
or embalmed corpses."
"What would they
want six corpses for?"
He spread his hands
over the laminated top of his desk. "I wouldn't know. We need to know." He picked up another paper.
"Here is your record. You are a practitioner of an ancient meditation technique that will allow you to pass for
dead in casual examinations."
I bit my lip
again, a little harder. "Sir, it's not some mystical practices. It was used to prepare for and survive cold
sleep hibernation. All our ancestors used it before faster than light became practical."
I started to explain how I used it on my own long three-month trip from Quetzalcoatl to Ormazd in a tin can masquerading as
a ship, but the Chief cut me off. "Never mind. Not important." He stood up, crossed his
arms, and said, "I'm asking you, Warrum, to volunteer to pass for dead as one of these six corpses."
I blinked. "You, er, don't know what these aliens want, do you?"
"Some theories. You will be briefed on them. We need facts."
"I see, sir." I hesitated, then said, "You must understand, sir. When I put myself into this meditative
state, in a sense, I am not there. My mind continues to record, but I cannot react, no matter what happens, no matter
what is done to me."
"Chance we must
take, Warrum. We have to get someone in there."
I thought of many things. I thought of Bernie, and the banquet we were going to miss. But I thought about how
dangerous this could be. In a voice I could almost not believe was mine, I said, "I'll volunteer, sir."
The Chief broke into a big grin and held out his hand
to me. "I knew I could count on you, Warrum."
I didn't sleep again. I couldn't risk drugs to stay awake. Eight hours of briefings. There was a lot to
The alien craft looked like a big obsidian
knife pointed at the sky. Stubby wings, if they were wings, protruded from the side. You could go right up and
touch it, and nothing happened. Further activity was postponed pending further knowledge.
A box was lowered from a door in the ship's side. It was brought in. It was black as the craft and seemed to be
made of something stronger than steel. Opening a hinged lid revealed six form-fitting spaces that could hold one corpse
At one point I asked why we wanted to give
in to this blackmail. The officer briefing me, a stranger, said, "Never mind, Officer Warrum. The decision
is made. You will carry out your assignment.
My assignment was to infiltrate the alien craft and, if possible, report back on what was going on inside. The town
government didn't want to take their word that they wouldn't harm anyone---no one was around when Halbert Tower blew up---but
harm was still possible.
My assignment, I knew,
might lead to my death.
I spent a lot of the time
memorizing a dizzying amount of code words and meanings, and possible ways to signal. I would do my best to carry my
With under an hour to go, I reported
to the morgue. I "met" my five fellow corpses. All died sometime in the last six hours. They lay,
stripped naked, on carts in the refrigerated section. One was shot, two died in car accidents, one was stabbed, one
hung herself. Ranging from very pale to very dark. Dead between six hours and three. A typical night's haul of
Their eyes opened in varying degrees.
I knew this was to conceal that my own eyes would be open. I would record events, and my eyes needed to be open to do
as much of that as I could.
I waited, dressed in
a medical examination robe. There was a cart waiting for me.
Doctor Laines, the assistant medical examiner, was alone in the room with me and the corpses. He would assist me in
my "death." He was the sole person in the department trusted to "know" what I was. We held
information as close as possible.
looked through a clipboard of ragged notes, and said, "I rejected an electrocution and a poisoning, along with three
natural cause deaths. They didn't meet the standards. Also there's no doubt about how these died."
The doctor fixed me with a serious glare. "It's time for a decision. You must be wounded in a way that looks
like it killed you."
"Yes, sir, I see."
I considered this all day, keeping a list in my mind. The doctor carried a corresponding list on his clipboard.
I said, "Doctor, I'm forced to rule out any injury that would puncture the skin. My medication technique will keep
me under for six hours, plus or minus. When I wake up, I'll live. And even before that, I'll bleed."
"Right." He glanced again at his notes.
"Three broken necks rules out another one. I don't want to raise suspicions."
"Then a skull fracture is best," I said.
"Yes." Doctor Laines put his clipboard down. "It can be fatal, but it doesn't need to be fatal.
Might be trouble without treatment, but we're desperate. Come with me."
We left the room with those particular corpses. The next room held several stainless steel tables. Most were empty,
some held shroud-wrapped corpses.
The doctor directed
me to one empty table. There was a cart next to it; the cart held several tools. Hoses and wires dangled overhead;
above them were bright lights. A portable examination scanner also lay next to the table.
I hopped up onto the table and lay down. It was biting cold. The examination machine came alive, displaying my
"Roll over, please," the
doctor said. I rolled over onto my stomach. If anything, it was colder than on my back. There was a curving
block of plastic, designed to hold a neck, my neck, in place. I slipped my neck into it and waited. The doctor
put something against the back of my head.
he said, "on the count of three...one...two..."
I didn't hear the "three" from the sudden slam. My sight blurred a little and I felt dizzy for a moment, but
there wasn't much pain. I came back to myself as the doctor said, "...fracture pattern consistent with a blow to
the back of the head. No other ill effects."
"I have a headache," I croaked. "Is that it?"
"No, no, roll back over onto your back. I've got to prepare the, prepare your, uh, corpse." He
glanced at the watch on his wrist. "Less than half an hour to deadline. The others are waiting."
He looked at me, then said, "If I were you I'd go into that meditative state of yours right now."
My head cleared a little. I did as he said, rolling onto my back. "You understand what I will do, Doctor?"
"I've read up on it, Ms. Warrum, but I've never
seen it in practice. Something of a lost art, I gather."
"Something like that. I'll begin now." I lay back, took one deep breath, then another. I tried
to ignore the ache in my head. I said, "Put your hand on my throat, doctor. Monitor my pulse."
He did so, with a rubber-gloved hand. But he also
kept his eyes on the examination scanner screens. The vital signs looked normal; green lights abounded.
I took one more deep breath, and let the chain of thoughts that would trigger the meditative state run through my head...I
felt my body relax...
But I knew who I was here, and I knew my place in the "here" of it. I could examine the information pumped
into my brain, and I could access much more. I was myself.
I was both of them at the same time.
with a crew of eight drones, we could repair the ship enough to leave the planet, then make further repairs while making all
possible speed to rejoin the Hive. Our mapped-out tasks lay before us. We could do it.
I climbed down the ropes and returned to the Drone Room. Three of the new drones became active and assisted the others
on the remaining two; these would be active in a short time. Tweenatov broke away and approached me. "Diatvordi,"
she said to me, and I knew my name and number without having heard it before.
I raised my hand, palm outward, in salute. "I am ready, Tweenatov." I found the language precise and
concise, a series of varying tones and phrases. I looked Tweenatov over. We did not look that different, though
I knew her species of origin came from a planet on the other side of the galaxy.
"You experience no disorientation?" Tweenatov asked. "You understand what you are to do here?"
"I know and understand and approve," I said.
"I made the final communication to the native population. No further signs of activity."
"I ask you the question asked of all drones."
I knew the question. I said, "I remember nothing of my previous life."
I needed to suppress the truth. Non-volunteer drones who remembered as much of their lives as I did could suffer anything
from brain-wiping to destruction. I needed to be safe---for the moment---till I could decide what to do.
Tweenatov held up her hand---seven-fingered like mine---and turned away. My next duty shone clear in my mind.
I left and climbed up into the middle of the Engine, into a tall empty space with a large central pillar four times my height.
One of the boxes of local electronic circuitry, a big metal crate, lay waiting. I opened it up and picked through it.
I found I could touch printed circuity and rewire and reprogram it, using my eyes to magnify and my seven-fingered hands at
their most delicate setting. Not every circuit proved right for the job and I discarded some as I worked.
Once I reworked the circuit I took it to the nearby wall. I climbed up along the guide ropes and put the circuit in
the right spot. Sometimes I replaced one with another, sometimes I just pushed the new one into a place.
Lights around the Engine changed, turning on and off, as I worked. The repairs worked. Links to systems came back
on. The end result showed its damage but it would work. We could go where we wanted to go. We could go home.
But did I want to go?
Many but one. A collective but individuals. It could be inevitable they would come to call themselves "the
Hive." And once named, the individuals that composed the Hive came to call themselves "drones."
Long ago parties left their planet of origin, to explore
the universe and plant colonies. Large colony ships carried millions. Small groups traveled in fast ships to explore,
to find useful knowledge, or knowledge for its own sake.
Drones numbered in the billions, and, as time passed, came to include many members of other species. Not some omnivorous
acquisition urge. No one was forced to join. Any who joined volunteered to do so.
One small ship went on a long trip, taking a pass through an unknown section of an unexplored galaxy. The task took
centuries. But drones did not live that long, and needed to be replaced. Drones could be cultivated and grown
to adulthood in a short time. But sometimes circumstances dictated actions.
The ship sustained damaged. Something hit them while in faster-than-light drive, something that passed through the ship
to cause great damage. Stored information and memories remained safe; they existed in multiple locations in the ship
and the drones. But just two drones survived, and the two of them by themselves could not repair the damage. The
ship could never make it back home.
through a stretch of space inhabited by an intelligent species similar in structure to themselves. This species looked
ripe for friendship when the Hive sent further visitors. Before they gathered information. But after the accident,
the two survivors formed a plan.
They limped back
in a big and slow circle and grounded their ship near a city on one world. Not without risk. They knew if their
plan failed they would never lift again. They picked a center of mining and industry. What they needed to make
repairs could be obtained here.
With regret, they
put their plan into action. They destroyed one uninhabited landmark, then issued demands and threatened further action.
If that worked, that would be all well and good. They did not intend to hurt and would not hurt on purpose. But
they assessed the psychology of the local species and believed the threat would do the job.
They kept demands simple. A certain amount of processed steel, smaller amounts of other minerals, and a collection of
manufactured electronic circuitry. And six corpses.
Corpses could be repaired and built, to make new drones out of them. If healthy dead specimens could be obtained, if
they died accidental deaths rather than illness, if just a short time elapsed from the point of death...and if this demand
would be met...
It would not be easy. A drone
made from a corpse almost never retained memory of a former life---not that the drones wanted to return to their former lives---but
"almost never" did not mean "never"...
Another new drone came up along the ropes.
I recognized her as the corpse shot in a robbery. I greeted her with her name---the name conveying information about
who she was now and where she drew her data and memories from. "Droantidia."
"Diatvordi," she responded. She joined in the work with the circuitry. Together we worked through
a third of this box, and others to be brought up.
"I ask the question," Droantidia said.
"I remember nothing about my previous life," I replied. "I ask the same of you."
"I give you the same answer."
we put circuits in the walls. We worked together for hours by human time. But we needed no immediate rest or sustenance
and kept going.
After some further time passed,
Droantidia said, "I admit curiosity about my former state."
"True," I said. Human transmitted media, from this planet and others, recorded and studied before and after
the accident, accessible through our links. Droantidia examined this data, I could see.
"I think," she said, "these humans will be upset. I think they will, in their phrasing, ‘try something.'"
She used the Standard English phrase rather than our own language.
"You know how they will respond?" I asked.
"No. But I am sure they will try."
I reviewed a number of action plans. We developed a number of possible scenarios, possible actions and responses.
We studied the species and compared what we learned with what we knew about other species. But not everything could
be anticipated. We would need to be flexible.
We would repair ourselves and leave. We would avoid taking any human life.
I said, "We must trust our ability to respond. It is all we can do."
Droantidia said, "You make me feel better.:
Soon after, the two of us climbed down from the Engine and into the central core. Substantial damage needed repair.
Broken struts and beams, latticework and frames with great holes in them. We took the processed steel, shaped it with
our hands with heat flowing through our bodies from a central unit. We made temporary replacements, good enough
to get us into space, but which would need more work in space on our way home.
I made the acquaintance of the others. But with all the new information I carried, I found it more like greeting old
friends and lovers. Tiodrovor and Diatoran, the two killed in the car crash; Nianiroda, the stabbing victim; and Vidinidia,
the former suicide.
They all looked and felt healthy
and happy, and free of human memories. Together with Tweeantov and Devovan, we worked hard and long. We did not
stop for rest or breaks or meals. We never became hungry or thirsty. We didn't sleep.
But the work occupied just a small portion of our now-enhanced minds. While we worked, we also dipped into the stored
records. Our personalities, for the most part, reflected the many drones that came before us. We connected to
We all could see what interested
each of us. Exploration, the people we contacted, drones and former drones...we all looked into one aspect or another
of our new lives.
None of them doubted. But
I did. I remembered how I became a drone...I was there but, thanks to the meditative technique, I wasn't there at all...
The container lid opened.
A festival of strange lights and sounds, colors and patterns, none familiar. For a moment, nothing moved, or seemed
to move. Then two shapes detached themselves from the patters. The indistinct shapes turned into rough humanoid
outlines. Shapes, black in color, not the black of skin color, but black like the color of the container.
Except the eyes. Eyes, large and glowing golden.
The humanoid shapes bent over the body and became more solid. They slipped hands and arms under the body and lifted.
The body, stiff and unmoving did not cooperate. They placed the body on a warm and soft surface, and the surface and
the body rolled away.
The area became bright with
light, of an intensity that would hurt the open eyes if they could feel pain. The body came under a bank of bright lights,
and on the edges of the lights, things with multiple mechanical arms moved about. One humanoid shape stayed. In
the light, it could be seen that the humanoid appeared female, and that she wore some kind of dark almost-black skintight
suit. Her arms came in with the arms of the machines.
The arms touched the body right over the head. A buzzing sound came as the skin on the sliced into the scalp and peeled
it back. Blood flowed, sucked away. More arms moved in. The arms pierced and stabbed and sliced the body
in multiple locations. Tubes slipped into various holes, old and new. The lungs began to inflate and deflate;
something outside the heart began to pump blood.
One long arm came down over the head. A long and straight needle hung from the end of the arm. The needle swerved
and then stabbed just next to the left ear. In moments, memories started to form in the inactive brain...
Time passed, days of it. At one
point Nianvidoda and I detached ourselves from the group, and returned to the Engine to work on circuitry. Together
we peeled back one wall and worked on the circuitry and complex micro-wiring behind it.
"The humans signal us," Nianvidoda said to me.
"We spoke," I said. "There will be no further communications. We will leave soon and that will
"They bring weapons and other
I looked at the situation outside
the ship through our cameras. Quite a large force, with great firepower, camped around us. I said, "They
cannot harm us."
"They might hurt themselves."
I considered that. But we could do nothing.
That time approached.
We would beat our deadline time by two local hours. We put the final touches, all eight of us, on the Engine, a matter
of incorporating some gold and silver circuitry, constructed from scratch, into what we made and reprogrammed.
A rough job, but it would get us into space. When we finished we would take up positions, in case some unforeseen problem
caused more damage and death.
But the humans cast
their net on us---in a literal sense. They threw a large net of steel cables over the ship and tried to topple us.
They could not. We could compensate and stay upright, but it proved an inconvenience and would delay our departure.
It was among anticipated problems. We could lift
and pull the net with us, but that might hurt the attacking humans in some way. We decided two of us would climb out,
cut the cables before we launched, then hang onto the outside of the ship until we rose high in the atmosphere of the planet.
By chance Devovan and I worked closest
to the hatch. The job fell to us. When we opened the hatch, the sunlight struck us---the first sunlight I felt
since becoming a drone. The breeze, the smells, familiar yet filtered through my upgraded senses---they spoke to me
in a way I didn't expect.
But I couldn't dwell
on them. I adjusted my eyes to the light. I could see the cables on the ship, the winches the cables hooked up
to---and the people running around them. Devovan and I separated and we each worked our way around the ship. Handholds
and footholds appeared in the skin of the ship as we needed them. We crawled along like spiders.
When I reached for a cable I put a free hand or foot on it. A moment of heat, focused through me, severed them.
I watched them as they snapped and plummeted to the ground.
But doing so expended a good deal of my internal resources; outside the ship I could not access the power there.
I would need replenishment once we lifted.
pings and splashes hit me and around me. I looked up. Rain? No, it came from the ground. Gunfire,
high-powered rifles trained on me. I looked down. I could see individuals aiming and firing.
Their fire proved accurate but it could not harm the ship and it could not harm me. My skin deflected all bullets,
as did the tougher ship's skin. One bullet hit the exposed skin of my face. It stung---the protection level not
as high as my armor, a tradeoff for mobility in the face, but creating a weak point. It stung a little and traces of
fluid oozed out before I cut it off. I turned my face away from the gunfire and worked on the cables.
The two of us just needed to finish cutting the cables. We could go when we finished.
Devovan and I met up on the other side of the ship. One last cable, tense and taut, tugged on from below as I reached
it. When I put my hand on it, an idea formed. If I cut the cable just so, and lessened my grips on the handhold
just so...I would hang onto the cable and be flung from the ship when it lifted. They would lift and they would leave
I hesitated. All my old doubts
emerged. Both directions. Did I want to escape?
Devovan leaned forward and put her face---a face so like my own but so not human---right next to mine. She said, "Do
it. We knew all along you remembered your past life."
"You hid it well.
You needed to hide it. But you did remember. And as long as you remember you cannot be happy with us."
She leaned forward and kissed me. "Go. Go with our love. Go and undo the damage."
I cut the cable and lessened my grips. I found myself flung from the side of the ship, falling backwards. I saw
Devovan swing in and grip new grip holds.
rose as I fell. I contemplated how they would get by with a crew of seven---but they could make do. We finished
Transmission between me and the
ship ceased as I slammed into the ground.
me for a moment, and when I came back I lay on my back looking up. The ship rose high in the air, tangled cables flapping
in the air. I saw a couple of anti-air rounds fired from somewhere; they hit and did no damage.
The ship dwindled to a dot and disappeared.
I found myself surrounded by uniformed men with rifles. They approached with caution. I knew they could not hurt
me with bullets. But I didn't want to alarm them and maybe get them hurt.
I sat up, then held my hands in the air. "Don't shoot!" I said. "I'm Officer Deborah Warrum!"
"After that you know the
rest," I said. I looked at the Chief, who looked back at me, a peculiar expression on his face. I couldn't
read his thoughts.
"Tell me anyway,"
"Once I came here and questioned."
Endless questioning, police, officials, and once, Doctor Laines. "Brought here, to this cell. This is the
City Jail, right? Top floor? Prisoners---other prisoners---evacuated?"
The Chief nodded. "We're preparing a special holding area for you, but it won't be ready for some time.
Maybe someday you'll walk on our streets again." He sighed. "Meanwhile, we must figure out just who
and what you are."
"I am Deborah Warrum,"
I said. "I may not look that much like I used to, but that's who I am."
"Or who you think you are."
I said, "I
don't know how to answer that."
went on. "I've listened to some of the interviews you gave. It's a matter of how you use your memories."
"How I use them?" I gave it a little
thought, then said, "I may be using my memories with greater clarity and precision, but there's no gap, no discontinuity
between then and now. My body and brain underwent some alterations, but they are one and the same. I am Deborah
"Are you?" The Chief
grinned without humor. He got up out of his chair and went to the jail cell's outer door. With what seemed
like a rehearsed gesture, he knocked twice on the door without turning his back. "What about Bernie?"
The door opened. I got to my feet. "Bernie!"
into Bernie on the way out of the Chief's office. He seemed surprised to see me coming out of the Chief's office.
He worked in the office and I worked out on the streets, but here I was. "What's up, Deb?" he asked.
"What's going on?"
Bernie was my friend,
and the closest thing to family for me since I left Quetzalcoatl five years before. He looked pretty good in his uniform,
I thought, clean and clean-shaven. I was glad to see him, I was always glad to see him, but this was a bad time and
a bad place. I swallowed hard and said, "I've just got an assignment."
"Related to this terrorist attack?"
Chief warned me to say as little as possible to anyone not involved---and Bernie was not involved. I wanted to tell
him but I couldn't. "I can't talk about it," I said. "But we'll miss the banquet."
He smiled. "I already thought that, Deb. Double shifts till the crisis is past. But you---"
"Special assignment. You might not see me
for days, Bern." Or maybe ever, I thought.
He put one arm around my shoulder and put a kiss on my forehead. "Go, Deb. We can talk after."
I hope, I thought, as I left.
Bernie! I remembered how serious I felt
about him. I remembered how I wanted the talk to be about how and when things would happen between
Could I be serious about Bernie now?
Bernie came in through the door and stood next to the Chief. He looked at me with a half-smile expression, as if he
I looked at him, but I did not smile.
I felt---what did I feel? I didn't know.
I ran through all my memories of Bernie, our meeting and friendship, our friendship deepening to romance and love, the nights
Then I realized it was just memory.
I could remember what I felt. But I knew I did not feel that way anymore.
And if I didn't feel that way anymore, was I Deborah Warrum?
Maybe I looked too lost in thought. Bernie coughed, and said, "Uh, hello, uh, Deb."
"Bernie," I said. After another awkward moment, I reached a realization, and said, "Bernie, I might or
might not be who I think I am, but, I'm sorry. I can't be to you what I was before."
"I thought as much," Bernie said. "I've been reading the transcripts and watching the videos."
"I'm sorry," I said again. "I've
changed. Not just my appearance."
life is different. Is this goodbye?"
"Well, I'd like to remain friends. I will need friends." I stepped close to the cell bars and held my
hand out. Bernie looked at the Chief, who nodded. He stepped up and took my hand. The first physical contact
I'd made with anyone since I left the ship---everyone avoided touching me, even Doctor Laines examined me from outside the
cell---and I was grateful for the contact.
a moment, he let go. He nodded to the Chief, then said to me, "If they let, I'll be seeing you later, Deb."
He then left, closing the door behind him.
a moment, we stood, me and the Chief, looking straight into each other's eyes. Then the Chief said, "Do you still
want to be called Deborah Warrum? Do you have another name?"
"You can call me Droantidia, sir," I said.
"Droantidia," he repeated. Somehow, from a human throat, it lost all its poetry and mathematics, a statement
reduced to a mere five syllables.
He went on.
"I'm still supposed to decide whether you mean us any harm or not. Far as I can tell, you don't."
"But it's subject to
interpretation. You'll have to remain in custody, maybe for the rest of your life. How long will that be?"
I managed a smile. "No longer than anyone
else, sir," I said. "Too many variables." I made a rough projection in my mind; no more than one
hundred years, with seventy to eighty possible, but too many factors to know for sure.
"We'll be talking again. I think...ah, I think you need to think a few things out."
I nodded. The Chief nodded and left, closing the door behind him. I turned away and faced the blank wall.
I didn't want to face anybody, not even the hidden cameras. I needed to think.
If I was not Deborah Warrum...if I was Droantidia. Did I make a mistake, a terrible mistake, in leaving the ship,
leaving the Hive?
These memories were mine.
I was who I was. I remembered my last moments hanging from the ship---memories clear as any other. Devovan said
I would never be happy on the ship, happy with the Hive, with those memories. I couldn't lose them without destroying
And I had a job to do. We did damage
in how we repaired the ship. Given time, that seventy-eighty years of time, maybe I could undo it. After all,
other ships of the Hive would be back someday. Could we all meet later as friends?
I turned away from the wall and smiled. Work, lots of work, lay before me. But first I needed to get out of this
cell. To this new prison. But out of the old one.