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The Mire's Minions

Will Shadbolt has been dreaming up stories for as long as he can remember. His short fiction has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, and other venues. You can read more at willshadbolt.com and follow him on Twitter at @W_Shadbolt.

Jess watched her hands move, watched herself step toward the maimed pilot, watched herself slit his throat in a single gesture--and she did none of it.
The Mire controlled her every move. The supercomputer had taken over her body, buried her own consciousness, and made her a prisoner in her own skin, doomed to just observe.
The dead pilot had been lucky. He'd been wounded too severely to be of any use to the hive mind.
Another Mire warrior dispatched another hurt crew member before wordlessly walking away.
Jess's body followed.
No words or gestures were necessary between the Mire's chess pieces, though after years trapped within herself, Jess had learned what certain actions meant--all of this ship's crew were either dead or assimilated, or about to be.
Now the ship's cargo of food would become fuel for the Mire's minions. Her body went to inspect the foodstuff shipment.
Along the way, she passed a bloody body. A sunset-pink necklace lay nearby, and if Jess could move her muscles, she would have gasped. It was decorated with no jewels, just knots--the Tentan style, her home planet.
In that moment, Jess wanted more than anything to reach out and pick up the necklace. Of course, her body walked right by, but as it did, the pinky finger on her left hand trembled. The movement was subtle, hardly more than a twitch, but Jess had felt it--and knew she had willed it.
She spent the next few days trying to force more movement. Trying to move as she had before, on Tenta, trying to run through the planet's golden plains, through its cities, or on the ship she had been posted to, where she had worked as a guard, manning the ship's defenses during battles until they had lost to a Mire ship.
She had never seen the Mire, but she felt its thoughts, knew something of its history.
A supercomputer left behind by some ancient race in a long forgotten solar system. No one who didn't belong to the Mire knew where it was located; the computer was careful, never bringing too many of its chess pieces to its home so it could be tracked down.
Jess knew. All of its minions knew. The Vera system, a spot so remote most maps didn't include it. But to Jess it had become everything. That twinkling, primordial collection of rocks held the key to her prison cell.
Jess was so preoccupied with her attempts at movement--none worked--that for a few days she didn't notice the ship's new course: Tenta.
She screamed internally as she envisioned the planet's cities rendered into smoking skeletons of metal, the inhabitants reduced to building blocks for the computer.
The scanners showed them nearing their destination--and other ships controlled by the hive mind joining them. Tenta came into view in the ship's windows, a sphere of blue, green, and pink. Stabs of nostalgia pained her consciousness. How many years had it been? Jess wondered.
The minions prepared for battle. Jess watched herself suit up for battle in protective gear as gray as storm clouds. Watched herself pick up a combat rifle. Watched herself head into a pod with other minions.
Soon she and a squadron were shot toward Tenta, toward its largest city, and, right after impact, she watched herself and the others run toward the city walls.
Tentan soldiers were ready. They fired on the Mire's forces, but the supercomputer controlled an overwhelming amount of warriors.
Lasers bright blue and red screamed past as Jess and her squadron broke through the walls, shot at soldiers, and rounded up any not gravely injured.
The whole time, Jess's inner narration shrieked, NO!
Already the city proper was a mess of ruins, cloaked by clouds of smoke. Tentans yelled and cried. Rubble formed canyons in the streets. Destruction and desolation piled before Jess.
And yet, she could sense the Mire frantically sending units to other sections. Her squadron was winning the battle, but the Mire was losing the war.
A laser scraped against her suit. She and her team turned to see a group of Tentan soldiers approaching them.
Quick as lightning, her body raised her gun, took aim, and--
Jess had grown up in a city just like this. She'd known the same customs and styles as the soldiers. They were her people.
--and she didn't fire. She felt the impulse to pull the trigger, fought it, and turned to the other Minions. Blood-red lasers erupted on their chests, shattering their suits, their ribcages. They fell to the ground dead and, Jess knew, thankful.
She looked at them and, straining--each syllable a struggle beyond anything she had ever known--said, "Ver... a... Sys... tem."
"What the hell is that?" muttered a soldier.
"Vera System?"
"I think I've heard of it...."
And then the Mire resumed control of her body and commanded it to sprint away. The Tentan soldiers were too confused to fire on the sole remaining Mire soldier.
And then she was out of earshot, out of the city, out on the plains, and then back in a pod and out of Tenta.
Jess watched her home world fly away from her, growing distant until it looked like a distant star, until space's void swallowed its pinpoint of light in blackness.
The Mire wouldn't kill her, she knew. Already she could sense its thoughts. The supercomputer would lock her away and strengthen its hold on her.
But soon, she hoped, soon she and all the others would be free.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 26th, 2021
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