The Last Human - Zack Jordan
Not so many years ago, Shenya the Widow was a void-cold killer. And as hobbies—no, passions—go, it was extraordinarily fulfilling. Hunt all night, feast at dawn, take one’s pick of the choicest males before the long day’s sleep…oh yes. She still fantasizes about it—though, sadly, fantasy is all she has left. This is because Shenya the Widow has been conquered, mind and body, by an ancient and terrible force.
And so she crouches like death’s own shadow outside a closed bedroom door and flexes a variety of bladed appendages in quiet reflection. Her own mother warned her about this. She could be hunting right now. She could be streaking through a moonlit forest with the rest of her covenant, the bloodlust boiling in her breast, her hunting cry joining those of her sisters in a chorus of beautiful death…but no.
She composes a Network message in her mind. [Sarya the Daughter], says the message. [My love and greatest treasure. My child, for whom I would gladly die. Open this door before I cut it out of the station wall.] She attaches a few choice emotions—though she knows her daughter’s unit is too basic to read them—and fires the message through the Network implant in the back of her head.
[Error, unit not receiving], says the return message. [Have a nice day.]
Shenya releases a slow and wrathful hiss. [Very clever], she sends, tapping a black and gleaming blade against the door. [I know you’re receiving, my love. And if you sabotage your unit one more time, well.] She dispatches the message as violently as possible, leans against the hatch, and begins a shrill danger-rattle with every available blade.
And then with a hiss and the screech of metal on chitin, the hatch slides aside to bathe Shenya the Widow in the blinding glow of her daughter’s quarters. She ignores the pain from her eyes—must her daughter always keep her room so bright?—and waits the moment it takes for her to distinguish the figure that is more collapsed than seated against the far wall. Its utility suit is rumpled, its boots undone, its sleeves and collar pulled as low and as high as they go. Only the head and the ends of the upper limbs are bare, but even that much exposed flesh would have sickened her not long ago.
Back before Shenya the Widow ever dreamed of calling this one daughter, it took her some time to stomach the sight of an intelligence without an exoskeleton. Imagine, a being with only four limbs! And worse, each of these limbs splits into five more at its end—well, that is the stuff of nightmares, is it not? As if that were not horrific enough, this being is wrapped top to bottom not in clean and beautiful chitin but in an oily blood-filled organ—which is called skin, her research has told her. There is a sporadic dusting of hair over this skin, with a few concentrations in seemingly random spots. Up top there is a great knot of it, long and thick and nearly Widow-dark, wild and falling down in tangles over the strangest eyes one could imagine. Those eyes! Two multicolored orbs that flash like killing strokes, that express emotion nearly as well as a pair of mandibles. One wouldn’t think it possible but here it is in action. That gaze that is nearly scorching the floor, that somehow radiates from such odd concentric circles—is that a sullen rage?
“Sorry about the hatch,” says her adopted daughter without looking up. Her upper limbs, Shenya the Widow cannot help but notice, are held dangerously close to an obscene Widow sign. “I was getting ready for my field trip.”
And now her mother understands: this is a mighty anger, a fury worthy of a Widow, and it is directed somewhere outside this room.
Shenya the Widow flows into her daughter’s room with the gentle clicks of exoskeleton on metal. She may be an apex predator, a murderous soul wrapped in lightning and darkness, but underneath that she is all parent. There are wrongs to be righted and hurts to be savagely avenged—but before any of that can happen there is a room to be tidied. Shenya the Widow’s many limbs are up to the task.