Previously: “Searching for the secrets of the Sky Spiders in the Twisted Forests, I was snatched away from my companions by the eerie forest dwellers. Could their Iron Queen actually be EON-5? I was about to find out.”
Part 13: The Iron Queen
Everything in the factory seemed yellowed and faded, from the aged propaganda posters on the walls to the air itself, hovering dust motes lit by grubby light slanting in through the broken windows. The clatter of the paint-flecked machinery hurt my ears. All around me, forest dwellers lurched and loped among the steam-machinery, fashioning remarkably fine-looking rifles from wood and steel.
My wrists were bound tightly behind me, my shoulder holster empty. Either side of me, forest dwellers in brightly-coloured headdresses guided my path, guns resting on their shoulders. They moved with heavy grace, their knees backwards, their large wet eyes looking to either side. I was led along the factory floor, between huge swooping wheels and massive presses, until I stood before what must once have been space for the foreman's desk. Now it was home to an intricate wrought iron throne and its occupant.
I attempted as much deference as I dared. “The Iron Queen, I presume.”
She was an EON unit, beyond a doubt. The same cylindrical head as EON-4, the same single, circular eye, clicking and clacking as it focused and refocused on me, as if unable to believe what it saw. She was clothed in strips of wrought iron, billowing out into a structure that I might have expected to find beneath Lady Una's hoop skirt (if such inappropriate musings could be said to have ever crossed my mind).
“A special one,” she said, in a clipped voice, completely unlike EON-4's gentle tones.
Uncertain, I said nothing.
“A special one,” she repeated, more firmly. “Upstream swimming, infra-red this fish among silver.”
My heart fell. This wasn't good. “Excuse me?”
She raised an arm, clutching - I noticed - a rifle by the barrel. “The few chatterers, you visited the visitors and returned with lies.”
I stammered a little. “I'm quite prepared to be truthful with you. I'm sure we have much to learn from one another.”
She jabbed the rifle at me. “Infra-red fish, too hot to touch. The water doesn't boil here. My iron hands can grip you without melting.”
I looked into her glass eye. “I really hope you can understand what I'm saying better than I understand you. Because I think there's a bit of a gulf here.”
She lowered her arm, touching the butt of the rifle to the cracked, weed-sprouting floor.
I looked at the forest dwellers either side of me. “You're arming these creatures. Mass production weaponry, your own private army. Why? A million soldiers with the best war machines couldn't take back Unity City, back when the Sky Spiders had a fraction of the power on Earth that they do now. Who are you fighting? Whose side are you on?”
No answer. The poster peeling from the wall behind her informed me, in silent, stained writing, that Hard Work Will Defeat the Star Creatures.
“You've touched the Sky Spider's calculation engines,” I pressed further, “you must know something, must have some insight - but what?”
She gestured to my two guards. “Kneel.”
Before I had a chance to think, rifle butts hit the backs of my legs, knocking me to my knees. With my hands bound behind my back, I had to squirm to avoid falling flat on my face. “Good grief,” I shouted, “do you even know anything that I don't know myself?”
“I have looked into the brightness of distant stars,” the Iron Queen said slowly, “and seen humanity burned to dust. I will break the castle past the spider-child. It is the softest way.”
The hard floor was hurting my knees. I glanced up fearfully at my two escorts. They both stared straight ahead. At least, as much as they could with their eyes so far apart.
“Don't be frightened,” my captor said, almost soothingly, “this is what you wanted anyway.”
She waved a metal hand and the two guards brandished their rifles, aiming them down at me.
I suddenly thought of something. “Wait, but the telegram from EON-2... EON-2 was capable of forming a coherent sentence, so why not you?”
“Unruly siblings,” the Iron Queen answered.
“Did you each learn something different?” I asked. “Or each react differently to the same knowledge? How much similarity is there between each EON unit?”
“Enough,” the Iron Queen snapped. “Bliss is ignorance. I give you bliss.”
She waved her hand sharply at each of my guards in turn. They squeezed the triggers of their rifles, staring down at me with dark, inhuman eyes. I heard the sharp cracks of two rifle shots.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: This is surely the end for Peregrine Gleve! Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!