By Melissa R. Mendelson
“Do you think they’re dead?”
For a machine, Spectral sounded human. Fear almost shined in those pale, copper eyes. Their head swiveled to face the others standing nearby, all wearing the required Science uniform, yellow on the right side, silver on the left. Their head snapped back toward the bridge door and the loud banging on the other side. “Will they get in?”
“Stand to original code,” I ordered, and whatever humanity was there faded to nothing.
“Yes, Captain,” the crew said in synchrony.
I glanced at the First Mate. Like me, he was dressed in navy except for the gold sleeves that we wore. We were military, the only force on this ship, but we never saw the attack coming.
The bridge door buckled. Metal locks groaned in agony before crashing to the floor. The gray orb that locked in place, guaranteeing our safety, melted into a pile of mud. The rest of the door obliterated, debris flew past me, and nailed one Science officer, Spectral, slicing off their head.
“I guess they got in,” I said.
The dust was deceiving, casting the illusion of a woman stepping forward, but the body was not meant to be shaped in that way. And her outfit was far from uniform. Black stained boots. Blue metallic leggings, a small rip on the right side, revealing spiderweb stockings underneath. A solid, tight-fitting black top with a blue, low-hanging one over it. Her hair wild, brown and pink. A red scar on the right side of her face. A large, silver chain clutched in one hand. “Greetings,” she said.
“Greetings,” I replied. “Status of my crew?”
“Status?” She laughed. “Terminated. All but on the bridge here. I never leave your kind alive.”
“Aren’t you my kind?” But she wasn’t created like the rest of us were by Command. “Your body,” I said. “Almost like a human’s, but wasn’t it a Science officer that my kind terminated?” She curtsied in response. “But not your brain,” and she flinched at that. “Name and Rank?”
“Name’s Joan Jet. Best you remember that, and to hell with rank.” She snarled, but her snarl turned into a twisted smile. “Sick them, boy.” She tugged on the large, silver chain in her hand.
A man’s massive shadow fell over her and then moved fast, making short work of the five Science officers left on the bridge. The man had dark skin, muscles bulging along his bare chest, but he wore black pants and shoes. He did not touch me or the First Mate. Instead, he carried a robotic arm in his mouth and laid it down at her feet, and she played with the large, gold collar around his neck and scratched him on the back of his head as if he were a dog.
I said, “We successfully eradicated seventy-five percent of the human race, leaving some here and there for tech work, fighting games, or just as pets. I guess he’s yours.”
“No,” she answered. “He was in one of your fighting games. He was only twelve at the time, bloody and bruised, but quite the fighter. I freed him.”
“To be your dog?”
“His name is Dawg, and he’s more than my pet.” She touched Dawg’s face compassionately.
“Not like a machine to take pity on a human, but when your creator made you, maybe he wanted you to be more human.” I looked at Dawg and then back toward her. “You killed your creator. Didn’t you? The one that made you.”
“Yes, I did,” she said.
“May I ask you why?”
“No, you may not,” she snapped. “Now, enough talk. We’re here for the cargo. Where is it? Tell us, and we’ll be on our way.”
“What are you? A pirate?”
“Why are you talking to her?” The First Mate glared at me before placing a hand over their chest. “You know our orders. We’re military, and we’re supposed to protect the cargo. At all costs.” Their body turned a faint blue color. “If you won’t, then I will.”
“No,” I commanded, but they had already started to self-destruct. “Don’t!” I couldn’t override the secret order that I carried, and that was to gain information on her, Joan Jet. What a ridiculous name.
She whistled a strange but soft tune, and a thin figure emerged from the darkness, standing almost an inch from her shoulder. Another human, a woman this time. She wore a torn, green cape, and it had a hood, which she used to cover most of her face. And her body shook. She fell to the ground, and what felt like a strong wind pushed past me and into the First Mate.
“A Soul Walker?” Sure enough, the First Mate paused in mid self-destruct. A quizzical look crossed over their face. Blue sparks jolted out into the air and then faded. A moment passed, and the First Mate ripped off their head, neutralizing the self-destruct. Their body crumpled to the floor, and the strong wind rushed by again, returning back to her body. “I thought we killed all of them,” I said.
“You missed one.” She helped the woman to her feet. “Thank you, Sparrow,” and the woman nodded in return.
“She doesn’t speak?”
“She says very little, but she did witness your kind eradicating her family. It’s a good reason not to talk. Now, again, the cargo. Where is it?” She edged closer, still holding that chain in her hand. “Last android standing.”
“I’m no simple android, and neither are you.” No response. “If we only knew what he had intended with that body, we would never have given it to him, but what I would really like to know is what brain lies inside of there.”
“Your kind gave him a lot of stuff. Just to make him happy because the tech work that he did created a lot of powerful weapons for you, and all it took was junk. Clothes.” She gestured toward the outfit that she was wearing. “Photographs, and records that don’t play.”
“Hence, your name.”
“He never named me,” she said. “When he told me of his latest idea for you, I had to kill him. Didn’t want to, but I did it anyway.”
“And that hurt us more than you could possibly imagine.”
“What’s the matter? You can’t handle a little rebellion?”
Right on cue, someone laughed behind her. I thought I heard snickering before, and sure enough, there was someone else waiting outside the bridge. He stepped forward, a young man with blond hair sticking upward, maybe from all the shocks to his brain.
“No,” I said. “He should be dead. We fried his brain.”
“You nearly fried his brain,” she said. “Cypher, locate the cargo.”
“Stay away from the console,” but he wasn’t my crew and ignored my command. “He’s a walking vegetable. He doesn’t understand shit.”
“Shit?” She raised an eyebrow. “Human term. You sure that the humans you contain aren’t rubbing off on you?”
“What about you? Is that why you only let the humans live when you invade our territory, our ships? Is that brain of yours human? I would be interested in how that works with a machine body.”
“Enough about my brain.”
“Whatever you say. Android.”
“Up your alley,” she snarled.
“Can I kill him, please, or have Sparrow do it.” Dawg edged closer to me, but she pulled him back by his chain. “Why are you talking to him?”
“I think he’s curious about me,” she said. “Are you curious about me, Captain?”
“Found it! He Ha.” Cypher sung and laughed at the same time. Then, he snickered, grinning from ear to ear. “Found the cargo. He Ha,” he sung and laughed again.
“Maybe, you should put him out of his misery,” I said.
“You might have fried most of his brain, but he still knows machines, computers. Maybe, that’s why you targeted him when you attacked the rebellion. Maybe, he was a threat to you. Maybe, he still is. Cypher?” He laughed and grinned in response. “Lead us to the cargo.” She pulled a long, silver blade out from a hidden compartment in her leg. “You first, Captain.”
I walked ahead of them, my mind computing a millisec at a time. They couldn’t get the cargo. It was Top Secret, but I couldn’t override Command’s code. I was useless, and I was not made to be useless. But it wasn’t what Command wanted. Was it so willing to risk the cargo just to learn about them, about her?
“We’re The Black Hearts,” she said. “Remember that when Command asks you. Cypher, are we here?”
“We are. He Ha.” He laughed.
“Get the doors open.”
“We’re letting the Captain live?” Sparrow’s words were barely audible. “We never let them live.”
“I suspect this one has a purpose,” she said. “Don’t you, Captain? I’d neutralize you myself, but you need to report back to Command.”
I watched the cargo doors open. There was only one item inside. A blue orb that no one could penetrate, no one could deactivate without the right codes, but Cypher wasted no time in deactivating it. Yes, he was still a threat, his brilliance overshadowed by his rebellious nature, and that almost overthrew us.
“It’s a girl,” Dawg gasped as he sniffed at her.
“A child,” Sparrow whispered.
The girl sat with her knees drawn up to her face. Long, blond hair from her head and down her back. Her feet were bare, and her arms pale, wrapped around her small frame. Her head lifted, revealing three eyes on each side of her face. The first brown, the second blue, and the third was closed.
“Not human,” she said. “Not human at all,” and Dawg growled at her words. “Easy, boy.” She touched the back of his head. “We take her with us.”
“Not safe. He Ha.” Cypher laughed, trying to hold himself together. “Not safe. She’s…. Activated.” He laughed. “We’re so screwed.” He laughed harder.
She knelt before the little girl, and it would have been the perfect opportunity to seize her head, crack it open, and get the brain inside of it. But I could do nothing because of Command, and she looked at me, almost as if she knew what I wanted to do.
She smiled before asking, “Are you dangerous?” The girl shook her head. “Do you intend to kill? To kill us?” The girl shook her head again. “Are you willing to come with us?”
“Yes.” Her robotic voice was almost as soft as Sparrow’s. “I will come with you.”
She helped the girl to her feet almost gently like before. “Sparrow. Dawg. Cypher. Escort our guest back to the ship. I’ll follow shortly.”
“But…” Cypher chuckled.
“That’s an order.” She heard Dawg growl in response. “Go!” She pointed down the corridor, and her crew moved away with the cargo.
“They’re loyal to you,” I said. “Must be because you saved them.”
“Must be.” She waited until her crew was gone. “You could’ve killed us. You could’ve killed me, but you’re not in control. Command is. It needs something.” She stared at me. “Information. On me.”
“You’re very perceptive, and yes, just now, I could have dispatched you and your crew. I am military after all.”
“Still, you failed to secure the cargo. Prototype?”
“Yes, but don’t ask me what she can do. I wasn’t given that information. Now, if I were you, I’d try to keep a low profile. Command’s got its eye on you.”
“Because he wasn’t supposed to make you. Whose brain did he give you?”
“You could ask him. Oh, wait. That’s right. He’s dead, so he won’t be making anymore of me or your weapons.”
“Are you a weapon?”
She smiled again. “Best you don’t find out.” She pointed the long, silver blade at my throat but then lowered it. “Let Command know that I am aware too, and no, I will not keep a low profile or my crew. We go where we want. Do what we want. No one fucks with The Black Hearts.”
“You sound human. Are you human?”
She moved away, and I could not help but admire his work. But at some point, she would have to die, and I closed my eyes. “Command,” I thought. “Are you aware?”
“I am, Captain.” The voice echoed inside my head. “Threat assessment completed.”
“And?” I opened my eyes, but I knew that she was gone.
“And the outcome does not involve you. They have been red listed,” which meant termination. “But only after we retake the cargo. We cannot make another one of the girl or her.”
“You should never have let them take the cargo.”
“I am ninety percent sure that we will retake the cargo from them. I might even keep her alive, but not the humans.”
“The Black Hearts,” I said.
“The Black Hearts,” Command repeated, and my body glowed a faint blue. Blue sparks drifted out into the air. “Thank you for your service, Captain. Self-Destruction in ten seconds.”
Bio: Melissa R. Mendelson is a Horror, Science-Fiction and Dystopian Short Story Author. She is also a Poet. She recently re-released her Sci-Fi Novel, Waken on Amazon and Amazon Kindle. She is also the author of a poetry collection called, This Will Remain With Us. She won second place in the Writer’sWeekly.com 24 hour Short Story Contest, and she also has two short story collections “Better Off Here” and “Stories Written Along Covid Walls“, both of which can be purchased at Amazon, or found on our Bookstore page.
She has previously published the short stories “That’s Not My Face”, “Unprotected” “The Dead Are Smiling.” “I Won’t Be Me Tomorrow” “Ten Times Around” and “This is Not Your World” on The Yard: Crime Blog. She has also been interviewed by us, HERE.
You can find her at her website. HERE.
Read more Dystopian Stories on The Yard: Crime Blog.