Chapter 54: Corruption
Pshh. Pshh. Pshh.
At first, Experiment 419 didn’t notice the sound at all. After all, from a distance, it blended in well with the sound of gas escaping from pipes, the sparks of frayed electrical wiring, the hum of the ship in motion, and various other ambient background noises.
Pshh. Pshh. Pshh.
Then, Experiment 626 stopped for a moment. He poked Jumba’s arm.
Jumba stopped as well, so suddenly that 419 walked right into his leg.
She stumbled backwards, instinctively rubbing her forehead as she did.
“Ow! What gives-?”
“Shh, little one.” Looking up at Jumba’s rather plum-like head, she saw that he had closed his eyes as if he was trying to concentrate on something.
Suddenly, he grabbed both experiments’ hands. “Quickly, hide!”
426 had no choice but to comply as she and 626 were pulled into an offshooting corridor.
“Are you hearing that?” Jumba whispered, crouching down beside the two so the console they were hiding behind would give them sufficient protection from being seen.
“Ih!” Experiment 626 said, nodding very quickly.
419 still couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. Sure, there was the gas, the humming, the sparks, the sound of at least one drone at work, but-
Wait. They hadn’t seen any drones for at least the past hour.
Pshh. Pshh. Pshh,
That was unmistakably the sound of a drone’s leg piston. And it was getting closer.
“I hear it, Jumba.”
“Now,” he continued, briefly checking over the top of the console to see if any drones had arrived, “from my observation it is unusual for an entire area to be devoided of drones. It is also unusual that a drone not be part of the group as a functioning part of the whole. It is therefore my suspicion that whoever is coming is either only pretending to be a drone, or is important enough in the hierarchy that they have been sent intentionally to meet with us.”
“Er Jumba,” replied 426, “that reasoning is somewhat fl-”
“I know, there are gaps in our knowledge and therefore I am making assumptions,” interrupted Jumba. “But I am having a hunch that this is being right, and as a scientist, sometimes you have to be going with your gut.”
419 opened her mouth to respond, but then closed it again. Jumba had often relied on his gut before, and while sometimes it was wrong, quite often it was right. Indeed, he had sometimes remarked that his gut had saved his – as well as their – neck quite a few times.
(All this 419 found odd for a gastrointestinal organ, but she wasn’t that familiar with Jumba’s physiology so she could always be wrong with that regard.)
The noises suddenly stopped, and 419 felt a chill up her spinal column. Something wasn’t right.
“There’s something familiar about that drone’s pacing,” muttered Jumba to himself.
The sounds had resumed their march. They could not be more than a few hundred metres away, by 419’s calculation.
“Yes, something familiar,” continued Jumba’s mutterings. “It’s much shorter than the other drones, which would probably indicate faster pacing, except the piston is obviously shorter, as indicated by a weaker sound, and the footsteps are lighter. And each step is the same – 32 microcelens long, about 12 microcelens shorter than almost every drone I’ve encountered.”
He scratched his chin thoughtfully. And then, suddenly he paused.
“No. It could not be!”
“What is it Jumba?”
Jumba turned to 419, a very grim look on his face.
“I’m afraid the worst may have happened. You see-”
And then, a voice rung out – one both familiar in sound and alien in tone. One that 419 had only heard once before.
“Jumba Jookiba? Where are you? I know you’re here.”
The sound of the drone walking was now directly in front of them. They were only separated by at best a few meters, possibly more.
The drone stopped again. 419 moved to the right side of the console to get a better view – she wanted to confirm her suspicions of who the person was without being detected, and figured that the right side, beside the wall, was the best position to take.
What she saw gave her the feeling that someone had suddenly force-fed her some barbell weights.
A small figure stood in the doorway. Her midnight-black hair stood at chest-length, and her large brown eyes shone with the light of the slime-green power couplings. The object covering half her face appeared as if someone had made a Phantom of the Opera mask out of a circuit board – while it was black, layers of componentry lined the device, and a bright-red laser beamed from an instrument above her left eye. Her body, which otherwise resembled the body of a girl about eight years old, was covered with a tight-fitting black outfit, with various technological implements hiding most of the suit from view.
The look on that girl’s face was not one of sympathy, or pity, or remorse – it was one of triumph, of conquest.
Although so much of the girl resembled the drones, there could be no mistaking who it was – or rather, who it had been. And if it were any other day, 419 would have sworn that, perhaps dressed in a Halloween outfit, it had been Little Girl herself standing before them.
The facsimile – it had to be a facsimile – tapped her foot, as if impatient that Jumba was not showing himself. 419 turned towards the other two – Stitch had not seen the person, but he was still shaking his head, muttering the word “naga” over and over again. He knew her voice all too well.
“It can’t be her, right? It has to be a clone, or something…”
“I’m afraid,” said Jumba, his voice now somewhat broken with emotion, “that it is, indeed, Little Girl.”
“Little Girl’s clone!” 419 grabbed his lab coat with frustration – he wasn’t telling them what she wanted to hear. “Tell me it’s Little Girl’s clone. Please.”
She released the coat and sat back down, looking up at Jumba, her eyes begging him to lie to her, or to mislead her, or tell her he was joking, or something that would mean Little Girl’s fine, she wasn’t standing in front of them, she hadn’t transformed into some evil robot thing, and she wasn’t – essentially – dead.
Jumba shook his head sadly. 419 knew the one thing he could not do was lie to his experiments on matters of this importance – but that didn’t make her feel better.
“Jumba, I’ve tracked your communicator beacon to somewhere in this area,” the impostor said. “Why don’t you make this easier and come out from where you’re hiding, eh?”
“Look, we can’t… we shouldn’t let our… p-personal feelings get… get in the way,” Jumba whispered. “That’s exactly how people are getting…. getting assimilated.” He looked side to side, as if afraid of what he was to say next. “If we are needing to, we have to c-consider the possibility… for her own good, to end… to be ending her suffering. Being a B-borg is a worse fate than I’d… than I’d wish on m-my worse… my greatest enemy.”
419’s jaw dropped open. What Jumba was implying was terrifying – yes, they’d always known the trip would be risky, but the suggestion of not only failing to bring back everyone but intentionally doing so in such a ruthless manner was…
“Jumba, you can’t do that. Not ever, not while there’s a chance…”
“It would be only last… final resort. If all else fails-”
“No. Please, Jumba.”
419 looked to Stitch for backup, but Stitch was looking back and forth between the direction the voice was coming from and Jumba. He was trying to make a judgement call – he cared for Little Girl deeply, as evidenced by the intense look of worry on his face, but he also understood exactly what Jumba was saying.
Finally, he stopped, turned his head towards Jumba, looked him squarely in the eye, and said only six words.
“Naga, Jumba. Lilo tu Jumba jugabli.”
Jumba’s mouth cracked into a smile. He ruffled Stitch’s head fur as if he were a small boy with hair; Stitch looked somewhat confused, but happy all the same – by 419’s analysis, happy that Jumba was happy, and happy that he was no longer considering the … well, the impossible.
“Stitch has only said that to me once before,” Jumba explained. “It inspired a rescue plan to try and rescue Little Girl. Against all odds, it succeeded. I am hoping the same will happen with this plan.”
He took a long, deep breath, as if to calm his senses, and continued. “Now, I may be able to restore the Little Girl we know, but first we need to subdue her.”
Stitch nodded slowly, sniffing a little, while 419 folded her arms, still somewhat perturbed by Jumba’s newfound vigour.
“Now, this plan,” he continued, “requires that everyone co-operates quickly and in time. We are needing to be like cogs in oiled machine that is well. We are needing to be like Borg.”
Lilo’s mind was tired out.
She had been resisting the Borg for so long… she had to keep resisting. Even as she… they were looking for her friends, she couldn’t give up.
But she had done horrible things.
On the way to Earth, she had assisted the assimilation of a planet. She implanted them with nanoprobes that forced the subject to be docile, and then beamed them to the chambers. The people who were unviable for assimilation and the people who resisted too much were killed.
She’d helped in the assimilation process. She’d sent people – innocent people, pleading with their eyes, begging for her to stop – to the same fate as herself, a fate worse than death.
Could she be redeemed?
You didn’t do this, said a determined voice In her head. It’s not your fault, it was the Borg.
You are Borg, said another, a dreary monotone. Our thoughts are one. We did this together, working in equal parts.
These acts are not your own. You are an individual. You are stron-
There are no individuals. We work as one, for the good of the Collective.
Whatever the case, she didn’t care – it was a distinction without a difference. She would be stuck with the pain and horror, with the images of what she – they had done burned to her brain.
There is a way. Become part of us. Let go and the pain will go too. You will become like us. Unfeeling, unrelenting, a single mind working for the good of perfection. Finally. you will not be lost. Finally, you will belong.
You need that pain. It is a part of you, it makes you human.
Lilo wasn’t so sure. She’d had enough pain and misery.
But the other had a point. Without emotion, what was the point?
Jumba Jookiba leaned against the back of the console, careful that his head not raise above it. He breathed slowly – he wasn’t sure that this was going to work, but he had to try.
He couldn’t dare try to tell his experiments to go along with this risky plan, but he needn’t bother – they had all volunteered. Experiment 419 had been carried by Stitch to the optimal position, and then Stitch had taken his place, careful to be quiet so as not to arouse suspicion from the single-minded drone.
Lilo. She had to be in there somewhere.
“I’ve had enough with games, Jumba Jookiba.”
Jumba winced. The voice sounded like Lilo, but… didn’t. It lacked the care, the happiness, the emotion that Lilo carried in her speech.
It was a shell, an emotionless void. This wasn’t Lilo.
“I am going to count to three, Jumba. I know you are here, so I want you to face me like a Qweltian. If not, I start shooting.”
He shivered. Those words, full of revile and hate. They sounded strange in Lilo’s voice, as alien as the strangest voice he had ever heard.
He lifted his hands high above his head and shuffled across from his hiding spot. “Alright, Lilo. I am here.”
The girl who looked so much like Lilo turned around. “Ah, Jumba. I’ve been expecting you. Where are your experiments?”
Jumba thought quickly. Lilo didn’t know they were here.
“They are being… er, on my ship.”
The girl raised an eyebrow.
“You’re a bad liar, Jumba.”
“So I have been told,” muttered Jumba.
“We saw your experiments on this ship. Experiment 419 helped you escape your cell, with assistance from Experiment 626, who terminated five drones. We have also seen Experiment 426 on this ship…”
Jumba noticed 419 attempting to hold back a gasp.
“… but his current co-ordinates are unknown.”
“How are you knowing their designations?”
The girl smirked.
“You know how I know, Jookiba. Our thoughts are one.”
Our thoughts are one.
It wasn’t quite true, but then again, she could feel the thought processes, hear the thoughts as they formed. And it felt as if it were her thoughts.
Each word that came out of her mouth felt foreign. She tried to move her eyes instinctively, but could not. She tried to scream, to tell Jumba to run as fast as he could. But her mouth did not move.
And new thoughts were forming in her head. She thought of assimilating Jumba. She wanted to assimilate Jumba…
No. No, she could never want that. It was the thing in her head that wanted that.
The thing in your head is your brain. We do want to assimilate Jumba, together.
No. The Borg were the ones who wanted it, not her.
She didn’t know how long she could convince herself that, though.
Her eyes saw Jumba signal. A noise, a brush of air – her mind quickly calculated the trajectory of the incoming body, and snatched it by the wrist as it flew at her from the ceiling.
The drone looked at the body. Lilo gasped. It was Stitch.
She felt her hand rotate, swiftly, precisely – she was twisting his wrist.
Stitch shrieked in agony. She was doing this. Her best friend in the universe, and she was causing him pain.
She had become a monster.
And then she said something. Words that were her own, but not her own, spilled out of her mouth, uncontrollably, unrelentingly, in an even tone.
“The knowledge and experience of the human, Lilo Pelekai, is part of us now. It has prepared us for all possible courses of action.”