A little glimpse at space opera never hurt anyone, am I right?
A Good Architect, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 940
Teresa Van Hassel knelt on the starship deck, clasping her hands together in petition. “You have to stop this, Michael. Please.”
The man who had once been Michael Van Hassel stared back at her. Red-tinted eyes bore down on her and the voice that answered was flat and grating.
“The Second Directive of the Program must be carried out,” said the Missionary. He brushed at his seamless black suit and looked out the observation window at the blue-green planet below. “Human beings are rich in information, but their design needs to be validated by the Program. As the Sovereign orders, so shall it be done.”
“There’s no point arguing with him.” This came from the tall man in the corner, red-eyed and dressed in black like the Missionary. “He’s completely infected. I’m sorry, Teresa, but you can’t save him.”
Teresa shook her head. She had not fought a war across three continents for the last ten years to let her brother spend the rest of his life as a meat puppet for the Architects. Even if it was the last thing she did—a prospect that seemed all too likely—she’d done what she could to reach Michael. He had to be in there.
“Vandal, you will be silent,” the Missionary barked. Not-Michael turned to him, seething. “The Sovereign orders it. You will surrender yourself and be deprecated—”
“Says you,” the Vandal quipped. He smirked and stepped out from the corner of the bridge. “I was ready for deprecation when you decided not to make me the Missionary to Earth, my Lord Sovereign. But then you got greedy. Forging a cerebral virus to turn humans into puppets like poor Michael here.” He scowled, his eyes dimming to deep crimson. “I expected better from the Program. You’ve become…” He smirked again. “Inefficient.”
“The Program cannot be inefficient,” the Missionary snarled back. His fists clenched until they were white with tension. “You are corrupted. You will be deprecated—”
“And then re-validated into biofuel for the masses, yes, I know.” The Vandal spread his arms wide and smiled. “But this, coming from the Sovereign, who wasted ten years fighting a war with the human race? Who projected that we’d only need one year to conquer a single planet?”
“You will be silent!” The Missionary lifted his right hand. The black glove swelled and pulsed with blue veins. Electrostatic discharge crackled in the air between the two Architects.
Teresa stayed on her knees. Her hand tightened on the instrument in her pocket.
The Vandal kept on smiling, even as he slid his gaze over to her. “Still think he’s in there?”
“Dylan’s tests showed us a chance. A way to reverse the infection.”
“Impossible,” the Missionary declared. “The viral infection is irreversible.”
“You keep using that word.” The Vandal’s eyes brightened to a near-shade of pink. “An Architect becoming more human was supposed to be impossible once, wasn’t it? And yet here I am.”
Sparks flared. The Vandal continued to smile and stared down at the smoking hole in his chest. Then he slowly dropped onto the deck.
“That statement,” the Missionary said coldly, “is no longer valid.”
“And neither is the Program.” Teresa whispered, now standing behind Michael. Before he could reply, she grabbed the back of his neck with one hand and plunged the jet injector into the first artery she could find.
The Missionary howled and thrust Teresa away. She skidded hard across the deck, the injector tumbling from her grip. Then the Architect was upon her, holding down her wrists and snarling.
She forced herself to look into his eyes. Eyes that were no longer red.
“No,” the man whispered. He shook his head. “Stop it. I will not obey—you must obey!” He shook his head back and forth, squeezing his eyes shut in pain. His voice was torn between real and synthetic tones. “I won’t—you will!—I said I won’t…!”
Michael lifted his hand from Teresa’s wrist. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Help… me…”
Teresa couldn’t stop her own tears. “I’m so sorry, Mikey. You… you’re the vantage point. Your connection to the Sovereign—”
“If I die, I can be replaced by another infected human.” Michael pushed himself off and took Teresa’s hand into his. “There’ll always be a Missionary. The Vandal was right about that.” He stared, his irises shifting between artificial red and natural green. “But if we’re connected—”
“If the Sovereign is lost, the Program will fall apart and the occupation will finally be over.” Teresa wiped her eyes. “My God, Michael, I—”
“Don’t say it.” Michael let go of her hand and sat on the deck. “It has to be this way. I was once ready to give my life for kids in Africa. I suppose I can do it for the whole world, too.”
He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “Thank you. Tell Dylan I’m sorry.”
Teresa didn’t respond. She turned away as he growled and started his last fight with the Sovereign.
She crept over to where the Vandal lay and began to search his body for a teleport beacon. She froze when she heard him groan.
“Huh,” he croaked. His eyes flickered into a shade of crimson. “Still alive, after all…” His hand weakly held up a thick silver disc. “Looking for this…?”
“Warm it up,” said Teresa, fighting back the lump in her throat. “Let’s go home.”
“And then the reconstruction.” The Vandal turned and smiled at Michael, kneeling defiantly on the collapsing starship bridge. The air around them shimmered as the wormhole opened. “I’m guessing you guys… will need a good Architect.”
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