Category Archives: XVIII. THE DARK ABYSS

Week 85

Time passed differently for the Insekt Hive. Unencumbered by concern for individuals, Hive plans coalesced like dust condensing into stars.

Without fear or pride, they never rushed and never faltered. They moved across galaxies as a glacier relentlessly pulverizes a landscape.

Their countless spacecraft traversed the Universe at deliberate speed while generations of drones, and even Queens, lived and died.

When a ship reached a planet suitable for colonization, the Hive swarmed it, attacking relentlessly until all was destroyed or consumed.

Defeats were rare, and temporary. For millennia, Earth had stood defiant—but the Hive always reclaimed incompletely harvested worlds.

Aboard her brood ship, Queen Mantis stood unmoving, eyes unfocused as her awareness crept through the Hive mind’s many chambers.

She had been watching the mantis shrimp kaiju as it attacked Putin’s Fortress of Oppulance, but Snowy’s fatal blow had severed her link.

The Queen’s head twitched to the side, and her abdomen slowly sank toward the ground. Her awareness had resettled in her body.

The kaiju’s death had been expected, and did not displease her. It had only been sent as a probe to test the Putin Pals’ weaknesses.

The animal agents fought well, and Mantis would have to dispose of them before capturing Putin. They were expendable—he was not.

Without moving her head, Mantis shifted her focus across her compound eye to gaze out the window into space. The ship was passing Saturn.

The countless spinning ice shards and rock fragments that formed the gas giant’s rings were like the myriad Insekts comprised by the Hive.

Soon the invasion would begin. The Earth would be back inside the Hive, the Order destroyed, and Putin returned to his home.

Then Queen Mantis would be prepared to confront her rightful enemy. In all the Universe, only one force truly threatened the Hive: Cthulu.

The Old God’s hunger was as great and terrible as that of the Hive. Long ago, Insekt scouts had been present for one of Cthulu’s feasts.

The little bugs had watched as Cthulu bled a solar system dry, devouring the many creatures living on its planets.

Sinking into the Hive’s ancient collective memory, Mantis watched the slaughter and heard the cries of anguish. She felt Cthulu’s sadism.

The Hive had no hatred for Cthulu, but it was a competitor and had to die. The Queen cocked her head as she thought.

Insekt soldiers would swarm the corpse-city R’leh, tearing apart its perverted geometry, exposing Cthulu’s slumbering form.

Then the Green Weapon would arrive to destroy the monster, dying so the Hive might live: A good plan. Mantis nodded, and called for a snack.

Week 86

After the giant kaiju peacock mantis shrimp had been dispatched, Putin made sure the Fortress of Opulence was secure.

Then he hurried to join the Pals in sickbay, where Black Ops, who was a certified paramedic, was tending the injured.

The pygmy goat paramedic quickly checked the vital signs of Murder Cat, Peaches, and Herb, and determined they could wait for treatment.

Although Murder Cat appeared to have suffered a concussion, he was conscious and responsive, and did not seem to be in immediate danger.

Snowy, however … Black Ops felt queasy as he began to clean the blood off the fur around her eye. He took a deep breath and continued.

Luckily, it seemed to be a clean wound, with no bits of kaiju shrimp left behind, and the barb had not penetrated too deeply.

He could flush the eye, cover it, give her antibiotics … but he knew it would always be an ugly mess, and she would never see with it again.

When Black Ops moved down and began to bandage the War Bear’s broken ribs, she let out a faint moan, then bit her lip and was silent.

Putin, too, was silent, standing in the far corner of the sickbay, tears running down his face. He picked up C4 and held her tightly.

Almost as if she understood, C4 was quiet in Putin’s arms as she licked the salty tears from his cheek.

“The worst is over now,” Pulpo Paul thought to Putin. “Snowy has suffered, but she will wear her injury as a badge of pride.”

Having finished his work, Black Ops offered Snowy a pain tablet, but she turned her head away in refusal. The goat told her to rest.

“What I don’t understand,” Putin thought to the psychic octopus, “is how they found us.” “You mean Mantis?” Pulpo Paul thought in reply.

“Yes. The giant kaiju peacock mantis shrimp was clearly an agent of the Hive. But how did it locate the Fortress of Opulence?

“We are in a sterile environment hundreds of metres beneath the sea. There are no insects here, no agents to feed information to Hivemind.”

C4 grew bored and began to squirm in Putin’s arms. He leaned down and placed her gently on the floor, where she sat at his feet.

“Perhaps,” thought Pulpo Paul, “all their agents everywhere were looking for us, and the giant kaiju peacock mantis shrimp just got lucky?”

“No,” thought Putin, “I don’t believe …” He stopped abruptly as C4 began scratching vigorously behind one ear with a tiny paw.

Putin and Pulpo Paul watched as the little dog twisted around and began to gnaw at a spot on her flank.

“I will order flea shampoo with the next delivery of supplies,” thought the psychic cephalopod.

Putin scooped up the little Poodle and strode from the sickbay without replying.

Week 87

Putin sat in the briefing room, surrounded by monitors, watching videos from every angle of the giant kaiju peacock mantis shrimp’s attack.

He was glad to focus on such a demanding task, instead of dwelling on yet another betrayal. C4! C4 had led Mantis straight to them!

“Technically, it was her fleas,” thought Pulpo Paul as he entered in his walking suit. Putin glowered and continued watching the videos.

“We should assemble the others for a debrief,” Paul thought. “They’ve received medical attention and a little rest.”

Putin did not look up from the monitor in front of him. “Snowy … .” He could not bring himself to think about her injuries.

“The War Bear has shown you her fighting spirit,” the octopus thought sternly. “She is a great warrior, who serves you and your Cause.

“Do not treat her like a pet.”

Putin winced, but he knew the octopus was right. “Fine,” he thought brusquely. “Call them for the debrief. Assemble here in thirty minutes.”

Singly or in pairs, the Pals made their way to the briefing room. Putin barely glanced up as they entered. The last to arrive was Snowy.

Putin looked at her, then quickly turned his head away. Naturally, she wore an eye patch now—as had Orso, the last time they met.

“She resembles her father even more now,” Putin thought bitterly. “But Orso …” Paul began, then stopped himself.

As they waited for the debrief to begin, the Pals noticed that C4 was not in the room. Murder Cat and Black Ops exchanged a glance.

Sending his thoughts out to the group, Pulpo Paul called the meeting to order. Putin cleared his throat and looked up at the assembled Pals.

“I’ll make this quick,” he said. “You have fought with great valor. You have defended the Fortress of Opulence from a surprise attack.

“You defeated the giant kaiju peacock mantis shrimp. But you did not defeat our real foe—Mantis. And now Mantis knows where to find us.

“I believe the kaiju was sent to test us, to gauge our strength. You fought bravely … but not well. Our casualties are unacceptably high.”

The Pals shifted uncomfortably in their seats, glancing uneasily at each other. They had done their best; what more could Putin want?

“I have studied the videos and identified each point of weakness. Starting tomorrow morning, we will redouble our training.

“We can have no vulnerabilities—not one! If Mantis is on the move, the Order will surely follow. And there is the Other, the Old One …

“Never again will Mantis and the Order join forces to fight this Great Terror—it is up to us, and us alone!

“When the Final Battle is over, it won’t matter if you fought with ‘heart’—the only thing that will matter is whether or not we have won.”

Week 88

Mila sat on the ancient stone floor, absentmindedly dragging her finger along the grout lines. How could such a dank dungeon lack insects?

She thought the question, but the answer meant nothing to her. Since her excommunication from the Hive, nothing meant anything to her.

When the hulking Mongol with a handlebar mustache burst into Mila’s apartment, he’d found her lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling.

Though she was more than capable of putting up a ferocious defense, she hadn’t resisted him at all. Off they’d gone—and now, this dungeon.

Mila heard the clic-clack of her cell door being unlocked, heard the groan as it opened, but didn’t look up. “Come,” Byan Khan commanded.

He led her down a long, torch-lit hallway and up a twisting stairway, never looking back to be sure she was following: The woman was broken.

At the end of another hallway, Mila saw robed figures seated around a long rectangular table. She heard the murmur of their conversation.

She did not even try to decipher their words, for she was mesmerized by a series of candle-lit stained glass windows set into the wall.

Each window depicted an event from an epic battle. In one, men in red robes encircled a termite mound. In the next, the mound was ablaze.

Pyramids covered in ants. Men impaled on the stingers of giant wasps. More robed figures, with lightning flying from their fingers.

Mila’s mind reeled. The images seemed to show an Insekt army losing a war to humans: Impossible! The Hive had never attacked this world!

In the last panel, humans cheered as a giant preying mantis wearing a broken crown fled the Earth atop a battered pyramid.

There could be no doubt: The windows depicted Mantis and the Hive being driven away. They had been here—and had been defeated!

For the first time, Mila wondered who her captors were. Suddenly, she heard a deep voice commanding her to approach the group.

She did as she was told. Approaching the table, she saw a small wooden stool at one end. “Sit!” the voice commanded, and she did.

The stool’s low height put her chin just level with the tabletop. She looked up at the menacing figures seated before her.

The man at the head of the table spoke. “Little girl, do you know why you’re here?” A large cowl obscured his face, but not his stench.

Mila shook her head no. The numbness of the past weeks was receding, forced aside by abject terror. The cloaked figure seemed to laugh.

“Did you really think Putin’s wife could murder the Commander and no one would notice? Our servants do not go missing for long.

“There is no need for you to claim innocence or attempt to explain yourself. Our psychic will discover all we need to know.”

At that moment, Mila felt a hand rest upon her shoulder. Looking up, she saw a kindly face smiling down at her: It was Arianna Huffington.

Week 89

“Hello, my dear,” said the media mogul. “Let us go on a journey together.” She smiled again as she placed her hands on Mila’s face.

But the shock of arriving at the Order’s table had begun to wear off, and Mila was once more becoming a cunning KGB agent.

Mila’s mind raced as she analyzed her situation and tried to develop a plan. Whoever these people were, she couldn’t reveal her secrets.

As Arianna closed her eyes and began muttering an ancient incantation, Mila recalled her interrogation-resistance training.

“She … resists …” Arianna muttered, her face contorting with effort. Mila set her jaw and willed her mind to stay blank as the tundra.

The women battled silently for many long minutes before the Fetid Lord interrupted. “Enough! You can finish the interrogation later.”

Arianna opened her eyes, looking surprised and disappointed as she turned to her master. “Tell us what you have seen,” he commanded.

The sorceress regained her composure before speaking, smoothing a few out-of-place hairs and straightening her white pants suit.

“I could not retrieve any memories, only feelings. She has a deep longing for lost communion, and grieves for some lost love.”

The room was silent but for the whirr of Cheney’s mechanical heart. Arianna stared into the distance as she sought to describe her vision.

“In her mind, I heard a persistent sound in the background, far away. It was a rustling, like dry leaves in the wind, or mice, or …”

“Insekts!” hissed the digital voice of robot scorpion Walt Disney. He looked at the Fetid Lord, who nodded in assent. “She is with Mantis!”

“Yes!” cried Arianna. “I saw a dark floating mountain in her mind, but it was, in fact, a pyramid. She dreams of the Brood Ship!”

George Takei gasped. No one had suspected that Mantis had an agent so close to Putin! This was a significant failure for the Order.

Still dazed from resisting Arianna’s psychic assault, Mila did not notice the ominous way the Order members were staring at her.

“Kanye, return the prisoner to her cell,” commanded the Red Tsar. Bowlegged from his recent surgery, Yeezy did as he was told.

“This is a disaster!” barked Cheney through the zipper of his gimp mask. “Mantis sees what her spies see, and now she knows where we are!”

“No,” replied the Fetid Lord. “The woman does not know what she has seen, or where she is, and her connection with Mantis is weak.

“But clearly she loves the Hive and wants to restore her lost connection with it. We will trick her into thinking she is spying on us.

“We will make her believe the coordinates of R’lyeh are the coordinates of our temple. We will trick Mantis into attacking Cthulhu’s home!”

A faint smile was visible in the darkness beneath the Red Tsar’s cowl. “It is time for us to move against Putin and his Pals!”