Wings of the Zero
-----------------

[1]

"In AD 2101, war was beginning," said the old man, sipping from
the coconut-shaped carton of juicyfunjuice in his wizened hand.
He paused, a look of dazed remembrance on his face, the
juicyfunjuice dribbling up into his brain and igniting the
decaying neurons there.

"Tell us grandfather!" the children around him shouted. "Tell us
about the war!" The old man, his eyes already unfocusing, his
mouth already becoming slack and incapable of the movement
required for speech, slumped back into his chair. His head fell
back and the carton tumbled from his hand, spilling flourescent
blue liquid on the floor. He had wanted to tell his grandchildren
about the war, but had stupidly drank before doing it. Now maybe
the next generation would never know. His irritation with himself
lasted only a moment before it, too, was washed away in the blue
tide, leaving him pleasantly adrift in his own faded memories.
Or fantasies. It hardly seemed to matter which.

[2]

"In AD 2101, war was beginning." That's how people spoke back
then, before Language Reformation movements and extermination
camps for the linguistically impure. Some holocausts are just a
really good idea.

War was beginning. In space. The starsflyer 'Supergraceful' moved
through the hard darkness like a massive steel turd passed from
the anus of god, and the countless little maintenance robots
scurried across its hull like tiny grey insects feasting on the
filth and burrowing into its bulk to lay eggs. It was large, this
turd. Large and terrifying to its enemies. Indeed, the
'Supergraceful' was legendary among people who knew about space
warfare... though very few actually did know about such things,
since very few space warfare campaigns were public knowledge to
the people back home on Earth. As far as most citizens knew, the
previous three decades had been peaceful and prosperous like no
other time in human history. No civilian knew about the colonies.
Or the Space-People. Or the endless border skirmishes with Human
Be Like Human Is and their giant flesh ships. The people on Earth
were in a warm cocoon of psychoactive 'fun food' and zero time
head broadcasts. The reality of things beyond the immediate
vicinity of Earth, of course, was a good deal less pleasant. It
was about to get harsher still.

[3]

The missile separated into several smaller detonation heads the
instant before it struck, its silence technology running out of
battery power milliseconds before impact. There was no time for the
automated defences to prevent the explosions. Explosions blossomed
on strategic points along the 'Supergraceful', severing connections
between vital defence systems and blasting holes in the
superstructure. The ship shuddered and slowly, ever so slowly,
began to careen off its course. Emergency stabilizers struggled to
bring the craft back as a cloud of debris trailed behind the wounded
starsflyer. The space-turd reeled and shuddered under the unexpected
assault. The tick-like maintenance robots scurried back inside,
except for those unlucky few who lost their grip and joined the
debris cloud. Human bodies, instantly flash-frozen by hard vacuum,
tumbled out of hull breaches and did cartwheels in the night.

War was beginning. This was how it went.

[4]

A moment before, there had been silence and routine calm. In a
sickening, chaotic moment, it had all turned to screams, shouts,
overlapping klaxons. Crew members and computer voices competed for
attention in damage reports and casualty figures. Smoke billowed out
of vents meant to clean the air, and an entire shift of personnel on
sex duty rushed in to man shattered stations, zipping up their
uniforms.

"What happen?" Captain shouted over the noise, clutching the metal
rings around his captain zone as the bridge shook and explosive fire
rampaged across the screens.

Mechanic, his face streaked with smeared ash, blood oozing out of the
shrapnel wound in his arm, frowned at the flickering displays on his
damaged computer. "Somebody set up us the bomb," he said, amazingly
audible over the din around them.

Automatic fire control systems flicked down from the ceiling and began
to fight the fire. Within their strong bubble, a burning crewman
flailed around in vacuum, his face horribly burnt, the fire suddenly
extinguished by the absence of air. The systems were supposed to
release him now that the fire was gone. The systems were clearly
malfunctioning. The crewman exploded, red bits coating the strong
bubble like an internal paint job. Captain glanced over, his face
totally expressionless except for a slight twitch around the eyes.

Gravity control systems blinked out for an instant, and everyone
could feel their feet rise an inch off the floor before falling
back again. Over the slow, heavy system alarms, a quick, bird-like
beeping started up from the communications console. "We get signal,"
said Operator, the receiver set hard-wired into his head glowing.

Captain sat down in case the gravity failed again. "What!"
Operator held on hand to the side of his head and pressed a sequence
of buttons his console with the other. "Main screen turn on." The
receiver in his head understood and obeyed.

The bridge lights dimmed. A holographic projection flickered to life.
It was a man, of sorts. The shape was recognized instantly by
everyone, and some of the younger, less experienced people on the
bridge visibly gaped in fear. Captain looked up at the figure, his
eyes widening in a moment of surprise and then narrowing again in
disgust and thin anger.

"It's you!"

[5]

Cats looked down at them. Or rather, his hologram did, though the
illusion was almost perfect. Half his face wore an expression of
tenderness and what could almost be described as fatherly love. The
other half of his face was a terrifying, inhuman tangle of wires and
circuitry from which burned a single, hate-filled, inhuman eye. Cats
loved the meaties in their crippled little space turd. He hated them,
too. There was no paradox in this. Human Be Like Human Is. It was a
credo which transcended logic.

"How are you gentlemen. All your base are belong to us. You are on
the way to destruction." Cat smiled and seethed rage. Simultaneously.

Captain blinked several times. Spasmodically. "What you say!" Cat's
words cut through the steel in Captain's head. All your bases. All
of them. It could only mean that Human Be Like Human Is had
destroyed the outer settlements. Flesh ships left no survivors. He
had been born on a base. His family had been there still.

Cats beamed with love. "You have no chance to survive make your
time," his human half said. The machine in his body added "Ha ha
ha ha." It was not a laugh. It was a pronunciation of the letters.
Literally
'Ha ha ha ha'. Then, the hologram faded and was gone.

[6]

The bridge was silent. Most of the computer voices had been
switched off, and the bridge crew stared at Captain expectantly.
Captain sat slumped in his chair, his eyes closed, his hands
steepled. No one spoke or moved for endless seconds.
Unable to take the silence any more, Operator blurted "Captain!"

Captain opened his eyes. He stood up. Slowly. Regally. Then, he
spoke at last, the words everyone had been waiting to hear.

"Take off every 'Zig'!"

[7]

The bridge exploded into action. The counter-attack was begun.

In the deepest levels of the starsflyer 'Supergraceful,' the 'Zig'
masters were downloaded into their suits. Awoken from texas sleep
and spun back into their conscious state, the relevant information
was entered into their liquid brains and then those brains mated
with the endoskeletons which rose up from the slabs like
resurrected dead. With loping, animal grace, the 'Zig' masters
strode to their 'Zig' ships. The human technicians got out of
their way, totally ignored and full of the fear that no amount
of training or exposure could remove.

The 'Zig' ships, sexually excited from the reunion with their
pilots, thrummed to life. The triple-union of 'Zig' thinking
waterware, 'Zig' thinking suitmen, and 'Zig' thinking ships was
like a spiritual orgasm that began at the climax and unspooled
leisurely into death and destruction in space. Sex was death,
and the 'Zig' lived for it. They fucked themselves to kill.

As the 'Zig' masters were preparing to lift off, Captain spoke
on the intercom, his voice wavering ever so slightly. The 'Zig'
listened to the voice of their god.

[8]

"You know what you doing. Move 'Zig'. For great justice."

The 'Zig' ships blasted away from the 'Supergraceful,' on their
holy afterglow crusade, in the direction of their target. Already
the flesh ships were visible, looking like vast sails made of
stitched-together human skin with crew pustules all along the
undersides. The 'Zig' moved to targeting position, ready to
deliver great justice as ordered.

It was AD 2101. War was beginning. It would be a long, long time
before it would end.

[9]

"That's how the war started," mumbled the old man, awaking from
his daze. The children were long gone. It was dark, the sun
having set hours before. Spiders had eaten the carton. The old
man sat where he was, looking out into the darkness, remembering
the fire and blood of his youth.

Who ever thought I'd live this long?, the old man thought to
himself. Who ever thought I'd win? He smiled. With half his face.
The other half could not. All it could do was rust quietly in
the sun.