Mother, I’m here, ready to carry on your work. Though the pain in me burns like coals, I won’t fail you. I am your instrument, your walking womb. What I was before, I have shed`.
My name, when it mattered, was Joseph Grimes.
Observe, Joseph Grimes as he was. Beard, hard eyes, tattooed neck. Orange uniform, lapel that read “Starlite Mining Concern.”
Miner Third Class Joseph Grimes. Posted by his Company to the planetoid Weiss-238-B. An unlovely sphere, given by its attendant miners the unlovely name of Fuck This Rock.
As usual, the Company gets in, grabs ore, gets out. No time for planetary studies. No time to catalogue exotic ferns and reptiles. We’ve got beryllium to extract. Rape this world and get the hell off it, that’s our way of life.
What if the planet doesn’t like it? We’ve got our methods. We can shred any critter smaller than a Brontosaurus. Notice to miners: anything growls at you, charges you, or Gods help you, bites you, you report to Command stat. Is that understood?
By an unclouded human mind, yes, that is understood. But that was before you came to me, Mother of the Hundred Eyes. Mother of the Brood. Mother of the Precious Bane.
Twosday eve, out in the scrub, untangling a lube hose, there was Joseph Grimes. That day, Grimes felt the sting in his side. And he looked down, and saw you hovering there. You, Mother. You made Joseph think of a spider crossed with a crow. Shiny black, a blur of furred wings. Eyes everywhere: you were spangled with them like a tiny sphere of night. A stinger long as a syringe, cruel as a bullet, plunged right through Joseph’s suit. It entered laterally, between the fourth and fifth rib.
Back to the Commander’s hut stumbled Grimes. Pain like a hot sheet, fog in his mind like a shot of poisoned rum, legs failing beneath him. Crashed through hatch, sweating, mad-eyed.
“Jesus, Grimes, what the hell happened?”
Who can explain what came next? On the heels of this madness, an eerie peace. It was the first stir of love for you, Mother. You were inside me now. Calming me, helping me, suggesting ideas.
Joseph Grimes stood up, more steadily. Met the Commander’s incredulous gaze.
“Nothing, Sir. Got dizzy. The heat, I think.”
“Grimes. Are you injured in any way?”
“Do you need a medcheck? Maybe you’d best stop by Meds.”
“Yes, Sir.” But Joseph was clever; headed in that direction, but detoured. Ah, Mother, already you were guiding Joseph to do the devious thing. To hide his love for you from these hard, unsmiling men and women.
A week passed. Joseph dug ore and Joseph joked with his peers, and Joseph dined heartily in Mess. What Joseph did not do was shower with his fellow miners. The showers were a crowd of bellies, breasts and butts, dongs and dings, asses and bushes, a place where nothing was hidden. A place where someone would have seen the throbbing bulge on Joseph’s left side.
Joseph was reported, in due time, for hygiene delinquency, but these things take time to process.
Long before that, Mother, your debt would come due.
It came due that Threesday noon at midday Mess. Joseph on his third helping – third! – of soya gruel. Oh, I was ravenous on your behalf, Mother.
And then it hit. Pain like a grenade’s burst, in his innermost chambers. And the entire Mess goggled as the one called Grimes shrieked and writhed and vomited, and fell to the floor.
To Meds with him, nearly incoherent. There to be prodded, there for the medtechs to gawk at Grimes’ massive thoracic trauma, so carefully hidden from his colleagues for so many days. There to be imaged in the 3DX, for the medtechs to drop jaws in disbelief.
Bio reported to the Commander, in hurried, stumbling words. “Egg-like masses present in body cavity.” “How many masses?” “Thousands.” “Thousands? Where in the body cavity?” “Everywhere. I mean everywhere, Sir. Stomach, lungs, all four ventricles. In the heart, in the bowels, in the brain.”
“Jesus. Lemme think. OK, I want a 30/10 guard on Miner Grimes. And I want one of those eggs extracted. Pull it out and incubate it, and tell me what threat it poses.”
And so Joseph Grimes lies sleeping and still. Rough machines pulse and beep in the darkened tent.
Day two of Joseph Grimes’ coma. Oh, I had such vivid dreams of you, Mother. You were vast as the sky, feathered like an angel. You enfolded me in such warm bliss that I wept, and curled up like a contented fetus. This is your love, for which I have waited lifetimes.
“Sir, we got that thing to hatch in a broth gel.”
“It’s some kind of unholy insect/mammal cross. Larval stage is vermiform, segmented, eyeless. Possesses anterior mouthparts, probably so it can chew its way out of Grimes.”
The Commander looks ill. “Chew…its way out. I see. And then?”
“It grows up.”
The Commander jumps to his boots. “Put the camp on double-A watch. Perimeter sealed. And bust out the Big Bitch.”
That was the camp’s massive beltfeed rifle, kept as a reserve against incursions by rival mining concerns, or uncooperative native fauna.
“Biospesh Ginty, if some hideous whatsit’s about to burst out of Grimes, we’ll toss him in the burnbox right now, so help me. And if Mama comes calling, let’s be ready to burp the Bitch at her.”
“Don’t fry Grimes just yet, Sir. The larva appears to be harmless. Slow. You could kill it with your boot.”
“And when it grows up?”
“Ran a DNA fork. Imago not significantly bigger. No monster. More like a wasp. I would guess, Sir, that the chief threat from the adult form is what it did to Grimes. Some small, flying critter sneaks up, stings you and lays eggs in you.”
“OK. Stand down the alert, then. Radio Central Dispatch. Tell them we need to get our people in armored suits and coverhelms. A pain in the ass when you’re trying to pick rock, but…” The Commander shudders.
The suits arrive the next day. The miners grumble, but after seeing pics of Grimes, and the things growing inside him, they comply.
Ah, Mother, they overlooked something. Did they not?
Yes, peacefully I slept, like a babe. But I was not a babe. No, Mother. You knew what I was.
I was a Mother, too. A surrogate.
Onesday midnight, the comm from Central Dispatch crackled. Biospesh Mo Chen’s voice, ten stars distant, to speak with Base Commander.
“Commander. Did you restrain the victim?”
“Negative. Victim is comatose. Lifeforms within the victim deemed low-level threat.”
“Recommend you reconsider. After reviewing your report, recommend max restraint, upgrade threat level to orange-A.”
“No need, Biospecialist Chen. We read the DNA. Larvae inside Grimes are harmless.”
“It’s not the larvae you need to worry about, Commander. If the lifeform that attacked Miner Grimes has analogues to terrestrial parasitic wasps, it’s possible that Grimes is more than a passive incubator.”
“What are you saying?”
“It’s common for these sorts of parasites to alter the behavior of the host. Caterpillars, for example. Once injected by wasps of the Glyptapanteles genus, they do more than hatch the host’s eggs. Their behavior changes. They act like bodyguards, protecting the brood. They’ll even attack their fellow caterpillars.”
“Are you saying Grimes wants to hatch a litter of creepy-crawlies?”
“Your report states he lied about the initial encounter. Kept the trauma to his ribcage hidden? Commander, it’s possible you’re dealing with someone under exobiotic influence. Recommend you restrain Grimes, and you should probably secure any base weaponry as well.”
“Holy shit. All right, we’re on it.”
But he’s too late. As this conversation unfolds, over in the med tent my eyes open. A single drowsy medtech guards.
It is time. A sweep of a powerful arm. Rip out the tubes. Wrap them around the young guard’s neck. And out go I, into the night.
That night! I felt your presence pulse within. I felt a thousand teeth tear through me, but you kept me from pain, Mother. And you guided me.
First to the armory, to fetch the Big Bitch. Three men could scarcely have lifted her, but you gave me the strength of Galahad that night. Like a hero of old, I shouldered the gun’s bulk. I reached the ladder that led to the ice-3 tank.
And I began to climb.
No miner likes heights, that’s why we’re miners. Oh, but my fear had fallen away. I hauled the gun skyward, rung by rung. Clawed my way painfully up top. On a high perch, I mounted the gun on its three stubby legs.
And I waited.
Shouts from below. “Grimes! He’s gone! He’s up there! Holy cats, he’s up there and he’s got the Bitch!”
My time is near, Mother. I feel them.
Voice through a bullhorn. “Grimes, come down immediately. Grimes, disable your weapon. Grimes, you crazy sonofabitch, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
I could never explain to them.
“Grimes, we’ll perform surgery. We’ll concoct a chemo regimen. We’ll get those things out of you, I promise.”
And I scream, with a voice louder than any horn.
“You will NOT!”
“For chrissake, Grimes, why?”
I burst into hot tears. “These… are… my… babies!”
And as I speak, I squeeze. The Bitch barks. And the miners surrounding the tower go down like rows of corn.
My babies will need food. More than my poor body can provide. Food that is soft, and still, and does not fight.
They come. The precious brood seeks the light. The first hatchlings burrow out through my eyes. Blind, and the pain is more than Mother can shield. Then out other orifices, through soft tissue, tearing, chewing, rending. I fall in a lake of my own blood. My babies wriggle to the edge of the tower, and from there drop to the grounds below. There to find their larder, to feed on the staring corpses and grow strong.
Mother of the hundred eyes. Mother of the precious bane. Mother, do as our bargain dictates. I have filled my part. Now do yours, Mother.
Do your part, Mother. Do it quickly. And bring the darkness down.