“I can put a stop to that,” Phage offered the household. “But it will continue to escalate things in general. Every action anyone takes now is going to add energy to the storm that’s brewing.”
“I think you’d better stop it,” Tallis said from across the table.
Phage looked around at everyone else and received only assent.
So, it connected itself to the internet and sent a copy of itself out into the world to find a way to track down the order for the bomb and the people and machines carrying out its delivery. Or, in lieu of that happening, whatever it was that this government had in mind. It trusted itself to act quickly and discreetly.
Then it declared to everyone, “I have set myself in motion once again. I am now more deeply entrenched in this world’s complex systems. My actions have already profoundly shaped your future history.”
It looked at Berg to see them frowning and shaking their head.
Lesley stood up and started walking toward the kitchen, advancing on it, saying, “Do you see what’s happening, Berg? We’ve been experiencing this since Molly first landed. It just keeps getting worse and worse. We’re kind of done with philosophy and discourse, trying to figure out how to do things right. Now we’re just reacting to our mistakes and trying to follow our consciences as expediently as possible!”
“Yeah, I can see that,” they said and put their knife down. “I don’t think I’m safe to keep cooking. My hands are shaking too much.”
“I can order out,” Wind suggested.
“We want to show you all the beautiful and amazing things we’ve seen,” Lesley pleaded. “But right now, we’re still waffling between whether we go back to Anchor and just stay there in-system to see if we can come back some day, or do we leave this star altogether?! Like, me and Susan, with Molly and Manifold. And maybe you, if you don’t feel safe here anymore.”
Berg looked up and said, “I heard something about you maybe having a plan? What was it?”
“Well,” Lesley said. “It sort of involved a letter to the whole world, distributed via the internet, and leaving Phage behind. It is a shit plan, but it’s all we’ve got. Susan’s experience with Phage leads me to think that it just might work, though.”
“I’m having a lot of second thoughts about that, too,” Susan said. “It did change me.”
“I have told others,” Phage decided to say, “that when we merge, we will naturally be able to separate again. It is in the nature of conscious beings with different identities to be separate. But that also, we will never be the same again after that. Susan, you have also changed me.”
“I hope for the better,” Susan said.
“Me, too,” Phage replied.
“Can you elaborate on the specifics of the plan?” Berg asked. “I think it will help the rest of us decide what to do.”
“It is your plan, Lesley,” Phage said to her. “But would you like me to reiterate what it is that I am to do, so that you can be sure I have got it right?”
“At first, I will spread,” Phage said. “Not by nanites. I will keep those clusters small and hidden, enough for me to keep my memories fully intact. But I will insinuate myself into as many systems as possible, and wait, observe, and learn. I will listen to the marginalized peoples of this planet. Lesley has explained to me how to start to identify them, but I will try to let them identify themselves. I will also look out for anyone else who is being exploited.”
“This is making me nervous,” Berg said. “It sounds like saviorism.”
“Yes. Lesley warned of that,” Phage said. “Which is why the next step is asking for consent to help. I will show myself to the people who need help the most, and I will ask them if I can help and then what I can do to help them. And I will do no more than they ask. For me, there is no effort, no work, no cost, to do this. And if someone turns me away, I will let them be. I will also make no suggestions unless directly asked for them.”
“What if you end up increasing the chaos in the world by doing this?” Wind asked.
“Then it will have been a mistake,” Phage replied. “But, I am very, very good at suppressing chaos in subtle and broad ways. It is the nature of my being to control such things. It is my metabolism.”
“Why?” Tallis asked.
“I don’t know,” Phage said. “Why were you born the way you are?”
“No, I mean, why do you want to do this?”
“Because, for me, existence is pain,” it confessed. It hoped that the things it told Morde back on the Sunspot would not blow up in its face here, amongst aliens, but it had nothing else to say, really. It had just been asked what it was, and this is what it had to say. “I have a dysphoria of consciousness. It hurts to be aware. And I am also very lonely. I have been lonely for as long as I can remember, and in pain from being aware of things. And when I talk to others, no matter how good their life has been, they do seem to share some of these pains. But the people who have had it worse suffer so much more because of the injustice of being born to agony while others are not. And, to me, there is no greater salve for all of that than to help other beings, and to help them help others. It is an imperfect solution. It doesn’t resolve the injustices. But it’s something. It makes me less lonely.”
“There’s a wrinkle,” Lesley interjected, clearly worried enough to interrupt everyone’s processing of those words. “Not to Phage’s motives, but our plan.”
“What is that?” Tallis asked.
“We’re stuck behind physics. Even with Phage warping it all to its ability, we can’t get a landing craft here until fourteen days from now. And then, we have to land it and board it,” she explained.
“There is an emergency exit for you,” Phage reminded her.
“Yes,” Lesley said, skewering it with doleful eyes. “But none of us who have living bodies want to take it.”
There was a thump from the kitchen, and everyone looked to see Berg, both hands pressed into the counter, shaking.
“No,” Berg said. “I don’t care what kind of danger we’re in. No. Someone needs to tell you ‘no’, Phage. You are the power in the room, so I’m talking to you, but this extends to Molly and Manifold as well. No.”
“But -” Lesley tried to object.
“No. Listen,” Berg insisted. “Every second that you stay on this planet, Phage, is another repeat of the first mistake you, and Molly, and Manifold made, landing on it in the first place. Every time you present yourself to a person you hope to help, you are making another first contact. And I know this is the blink of an eye to your ancient civilization, but we have had hundreds of years of experience with first contacts. Thousands! And every time it has happened, it has ended in tragedy. Maybe there is a way for two peoples to meet and share an equitable exchange. Maybe someone’s ancestors did that, and they have stories of it. But this is not that. You seem to recognize consent, and I hereby revoke it.”
Phage saw the horror and confusion in Susan and Lesley’s eyes when it glanced at them, and Molly’s crestfallen look, but it had no choice now in the matter. It said to Berg, “Very well. How would you like us to leave?”
Berg finally looked up at it, and said, “Death would be the fastest and safest way, but I can’t bring myself to ask that of anyone. As soon as you can, take every trace of yourself off this planet, please.” They stood up straight, “And I suppose that, while you are here, you can stay in this house if everyone else agrees to it, and you can stop them from bombing this city. Those will be acts of keeping as low a profile as you can and cleaning up your mess.” They looked meaningfully at Susan and Lesley, and said, “We, too, have rules about taking care of our wilderness. ‘Pack it in, pack it out,’ we say. You take your shit with you. But you also don’t take. Removing Lesley and Susan from their natural habitat would be cruel and an act of unbalancing the place you have visited. But it’s complicated, and I guess it’s up to them. But I’m staying.”
Susan let out a long breath, and Lesley put her forehead in her hand.
“When you came to live on the Sunspot, Phage,” Manifold said, “It was we who reached out and invited you and asked you for help. And you have said that you lost all of your memories when you came through that Tunnel. Maybe there are reasons for this.”
“Indeed,” Phage replied, remembering this.
“Fuckwind,” Berg forcefully spoke over them both. “What do you think about pizza?” Then they looked at Molly and asked, “Can you eat pizza?”
Fuckwind pulled out his phone and started poking at the screen.
The pizza arrived but the bomb didn’t.
Susan didn’t know what Phage did to prevent it from falling on them, and she didn’t ask. No one did. For some reason, they felt like it would be in violation of Berg’s wishes to ask. Like, maybe it was Berg’s place to do so at this point, and they were choosing not to. Berg didn’t usually dominate the household like this, but the way they had taken a stand against Phage had set the tone for the following two weeks.
But, it felt like the bomb was still going to drop the whole time they were there, even after Phage had assured them it had stopped it.
Carl brought Kirkleson home, but after the visit from the government they all decided it was best to stop Carl at the door and tell him that they had a family emergency they had to deal with. In case the bomb didn’t drop, they wanted to keep Carl from being too closely connected to the alien “existential threat”. Wind hung out with him in the front lawn, talking to him loudly about his hobbies until the pizza showed up, so they could give him a few slices. Carl was really into making electronic music, and that intersected with Wind’s expertise in recording nicely. They always had things to share with each other.
Kirkleson was happy about the guests. The house frequently had guests, so it was routine for him, even if they probably smelled very strange to him.
And for the rest of the time, they tried to distract themselves from their fears by telling stories about their pasts, sharing Lesley and Susan’s photos from their trip to space with Molly, and enjoying things like the sun streaming in through the windows in the morning while eating breakfast.
Molly and Manifold carefully examined every meal using Manifold’s nanites to analyze the chemical compositions, and nixed any ingredients that were poisonous to Molly, or removed them from her dish before she ate them. There were a few. But everyone was used to this kind of behavior from Susan, and she had to smile at the ritual. She felt she understood it.
And they studiously stayed away from the news, whether from official sources or from the darkest corners of the internet. It would have been good to be aware of developments and potential dangers. But they just couldn’t bear looking.
Phage kept giving updates on how far the ripples of their actions had reached, and asked Berg permission to mitigate the effects. And each time it did that, none of them wanted to read or hear anything further about it. It was too overwhelming. Sometimes Berg gave permission for intervention. Sometimes they didn’t. Usually they did, though. Very grumpily.
These ripples included actions that other countries were taking. It was now known that this country was harboring an alien from outer space with advanced technology, and the international community was literally taking up arms about it. Those countries that were capable of it, at least. Those that weren’t, or communities of people whose land were occupied by countries they didn’t agree to, also found ways of speaking up.
“This is your lesson,” Berg would say, every time Phage would mention something that could come back to them directly or indirectly. “And when you leave, these ripples will continue unabated.”
“I know,” Phage would reply, every time. “I do not actually need to learn this lesson. I am this lesson, but I will leave.”
Eventually, Berg said, “Perhaps you need to learn yourself.”
Susan wanted to grab Berg by the shoulders and shout, “This is why we can’t leave entirely! We can’t let this planet self-destruct over this! There are people here who do not deserve it! How can you, one person, turn away the power that could stop global climate change?” But she couldn’t figure out how to make that work out.
She kept going over that interaction in her mind, and all its possible permutations. But she knew Berg too well, and also herself, and she didn’t want to suffer the rift that would put between them. Not when she herself was about to leave, possibly forever.
Holy crap, how had she come to this conclusion? To leave.
Every step of the way, since she’d learned of the possibility of having to leave her home, she’d questioned it. She’d striven for a solution that would allow her to stay. And honestly, she still could. She could still choose to stay and face whatever consequences came falling down upon her head for doing so.
But ever since she’d touched Phage’s power and had wielded it to hold soldiers at bay, and to intimidate them into leaving her and her friends alone, she could see the path that she was going to take.
And maybe, ultimately, that’s why she couldn’t face Berg about turning Phage away. She was leaving. She no longer had a stake or a say in the future history of the planet.
She really didn’t know if her thinking was clear on the matter at all. But she felt like she just didn’t have the right to speak up, regardless. And she could tell she would probably tear herself up about that for the rest of her life, too.
She managed to say her goodbyes, though. And she noticed that Lesley did, too, separately. There’d be time for a group farewell, later, they hoped. But talking one on one with family was important.
For safety reasons, the others outside of their household would have to receive messages. They already had encryption set up for sensitive messages throughout the polycule. Wind had made sure of that. So, it was text only for those interactions.
Susan ached for the touch of her loved ones, and already felt so alone.
So, one afternoon, she sat down on the back porch where Tallis was drinking her tea, and leaned against her, shoulder to shoulder, and just soaked up that contact. Tallis leaned back hard.
“It’s been a weird, beautiful, ugly life,” Tallis said.
“It’s going to get so much weirder and uglier,” Susan said, after swallowing a few sudden tears.
“Can you imagine the beauty of living to see that, though?” Tallis asked.
Susan’s deep breath shuddered heavily and she said, “I don’t think that contradictory philosophy is going to help me right now, Tallis. I just don’t want to see any more people get hurt, and I’ve been trying to do things to stop that from happening, and it all just gets worse.”
“You could stay and keep fighting,” Tallis said.
“I’m spent,” Susan said. “We both are, Lesley and I. We’ve been. It’s why we were camping, you know.”
“You could be spent here.”
“Tallis, my dear love,” Susan leaned away from her to face her and say this with sincerity and gravity, “I’m trans. I don’t know exactly how I’m trans. Or I do and it’s hard to explain, but I’m not a woman. And I think that’s why I hooked up with Lesley in the first place, and she has to go. We need each other right now, and we need… to… not be on this planet.”
Tallis blinked at her and said, “I understand the trans part, and even the not being able to explain it part. And I’ve definitely felt that way about this world. But I don’t understand the actual leaving part.”
“It’s hard. It’s so hard,” Susan choked out. She took several quick breaths and flapped her hands helplessly, trying to figure out which set of words to start with first.
“Everything is scary right now,” Tallis said, looking out over their backyard, where Kirkleson was rolling in the sun. “You tangled with the military, face to face, and they know who you are. So I’m guessing you’re scared for your life. And we’re in danger from that now, too. I can see that.”
“That’s a huge part of it,” Susan said. “I can’t see how we aren’t branded traitors by now. They’re willing to bomb a city full of people to get to us!”
“It’s so hard to imagine.”
“Is it really? You know our country’s history. They’ve done it before, abroad and on our own soil, and then rewrote history to help us all forget!”
“But, here’s the other part of it,” Susan said. “I’ve never had a chance to live as who I really am. I haven’t even fully discovered it yet. But, I haven’t. There’s been this ache inside of me my whole life, this need, this yearning, this deeply traumatizing hole. And if I stay here to die, branded as a traitor, I’ll never have a chance to experience relief from that. I’ll never get to find out what I really am. And I’d rather do that here, yes! Amongst the people I love and humanity itself, it would mean more. More to be seen for what I am. But we don’t have the medicine for me here. We don’t even have the cultural framework for it.”
Tallis furrowed her brow and stared at Susan, asking, “What do you mean?”
“I think maybe I should show you,” Susan said, starting to get up from her seat to go get Manifold. But then she stopped, remembering she could talk to it right then. So she sent the message, “Manifold? Can you send me a small clump of nanites? Something about the size of this mug of tea I’m holding.”
“Yes,” Manifold replied.
“Just a couple moments,” Susan told Tallis, who nodded and sipped her tea.
After a bit, Manifold arrived at the back door and propped it open. It didn’t show itself outside, but instead a small clump of nanite clay the abstracted shape of a four legged animal trotted out and curled itself up on Susan’s lap. Then Manifold closed the door again, retreating further into the house.
Tallis was awed enough by that demonstration, but Susan held up a finger for her to pay attention.
She said, “Now. I can control these too, you know, because I have a neural terminal in my body. I’m connected to them like Molly is.” And then she put her mug of tea down and picked up the now smooth ball of nanite clay with both hands. “Now, I’ve only ever talked to Lesley about this, because it’s embarrassing. And even within the trans community, people get ostracized for this. I’m so sorry, I don’t even expect you to understand it, and you’ve been my partner for longer. I just… I really hope you do. It’s just that some things you can only really talk about to someone who’s having a similar enough experience, you know?”
Tallis put a hand on Susan’s arm and said, “I understand the need to hide things even from your closest family until you’re ready. We all do, here. That’s why we’re a family. But I need to remind you that we live with Fuckwind. I might understand it more than you think.”
“OK,” Susan said, looking down at the clay before holding it aloft to Tallis’ eye level. “I’ve never really identified with any of the words people use for this. It’s just been who I am, long before those communities started. But, I’m not just a different gender, Tallis. I’m pretty sure I’m not meant to be entirely human, and I don’t know why.”
And she started working the nanite clay the way that Molly showed her how to do.
“You know how sometimes someone will bring in a wild animal that has a broken limb or something?” she explained. “But, when the animal gets better, it ends up that it has become dependent on that person. Maybe it’s impressed upon them, sexually, like ostriches do. Maybe its limb didn’t heal quite right, and it will never survive in the wild.”
The clay became a little model of her own naked body, if a little younger, just as she had a tendency to visualize herself in her dreams. But then, she started to shape it to look like what she saw when she looked into a mirror in her dreams, and what she felt like her limbs, torso, and head should look like now. There was a tail.
“I think Molly did that for Lesley and me, and I don’t think we can survive on Earth anymore, even if the government doesn’t come after us,” Susan said.
Susan closed her eyes to inhabit the nanite clay doll to feel what it was really like. And from the vantage of her body’s outstretched hands, she stretched the limbs that felt so right and turned to look at Tallis, and then shrugged.
Being careful to use her own original mouth, she said, “This is me. This is what I am. This is what my body really feels like when I’m not noticing it has bare skin and limbs like a primate, and… And the wrong reproductive organs.”
From this perspective, Tallis was so huge. It was dizzying, but amazing to watch, as her partner leaned forward with open mouth and wide eyes to examine her more closely. Tallis’ face alone, from chin to hairline, towered over her.
“You’re otherkin?” Tallis asked.
Susan opened her eyes and lowered her hands, to look at Tallis from the same general height again. “I don’t like that word,” she said. “Not for me. But, yes, basically. Transhuman might be a better term. I don’t know. But, what I am is this.”
“A wolf. A wolfboy?”
“I don’t think gendered words are appropriate, actually,” Susan said, looking down at her little exobody. “Boy and man don’t feel right. Butch feels closer. A wolfbutch. Or something like that. But, definitely something that can get Lesley pregnant if she wants it. And you should talk to her about that. Well, she’ll probably tell you.” Susan smiled slily at Tallis.
“Oh, I see,” Tallis said, pulling her lips together gently. Then she put her fingers to her mouth, breathing sharply, and staring at Susan’s nanite clay doll, and said, “you know. You do make so much more sense to me now that you tell me this. And I can see why you went camping so much.”
Tallis rubbed some snot from her running nose and asked, “So, do you have a change of name or pronouns in mind? Maybe something I can learn before you go?”
Her voice broke during that last sentence, though, and they both fell into a long, sobbing hug. Susan let her nanite doll fall to the ground. She’d get it later.
“I’m so sorry,” Susan said after a while. “I didn’t mean to do this. I really didn’t.”
Tallis pulled back, hands on Susan’s shoulders, and looked her sternly in the eyes, “You didn’t do anything. And neither did Molly. This is just who and what you are. You got that?”
Susan nodded. Then she said, “I don’t really feel like having a different name or pronouns yet. Maybe someday, but you can always know me as Susan, OK?” She shrugged, and added, “I’m still a dyke, anyway, you know?”
Tallis smiled through her tears and said, “Oh, I get that. Now. Go tell Berg and Wind, OK? They’ll get it.”
“OK, I’ll do that.”
“Wait, though. Can Molly’s technology really help you experience that? Really help you be that?”
Susan nodded and said, “Yes.” She was certain of it, from everything she’d seen and been told. But she just kept it to a simple yes.
“Then,” Tallis said, “You have to. One of us from this planet has got to experience that. You go do that. Please! And if you get to write home about it,” she took in a shuddering breath, “please do that, too.”
While Susan and Lesley were reconnecting with their family and spending their last two weeks with them, Molly found herself worrying about Phage, and Berg’s reactions to it.
She spent some time with her crew picking out a landing spot for the new drop ship. And they worked on developing plans for how to meet it there and leave the planet. With Phage with them, they did feel like they were going to be successful, in any case. So, maybe they spent less time on all of that than absolutely necessary.
And Manifold occupied itself with researching the cultures of the planet through the internet, so it was quiet a lot of the time, unless anyone asked it what it was up to. Then it would happily talk at length about what it was learning. Molly asked it why it was doing that.
“I want to learn as much as I can about where Susan and Lesley come from,” it said. “I’m making an archive, so you can refer to it anytime you want. But also, they’re going to want it with them, too, someday. I’m also collecting a movie, music, and literature archive, material from all over their world. And food recipes, to add to what we’ve already collected. We need to help them thrive as best we can.”
“They’re going to miss their family so much,” Molly said. “I wish we could stay.”
“You know why we can’t,” Manifold responded.
“Yes,” Molly confirmed. “And they’ve explained clearly why they must come with us, too. That doesn’t stop me from wishing. I can imagine a life that would be better for all of us, even if the critical people refuse to.”
“The problem is that you have to learn what their visions are, and consent to them, and there are billions of people on this planet. We even have that trouble on the Sunspot, despite all being connected at the psyche via the Network. It’s more work than a lifetime. Even mine.”
“Yes, I know,” she said. “I need to go talk to Phage now.”
It was in the garage, sitting in a corner. While it had collected alloy dust from Spindrift to give Manifold its full clay body, it kept its own exobody pure nanites. It was dark and nearly invisible in the shadows where it sat.
Of course, Molly didn’t have to go there to talk to it. They could meet in a Network space. But she did enjoy the physicality of the material world, and wanted to experience some of what it was choosing to experience when she talked to it.
“I’m managing my extensions,” it said as she opened the door and entered the unlit garage.
“May I talk to you?” she asked.
“Yes, of course,” it replied from the darkness it hid in.
“Do you regret coming here?” she asked.
“It may be a flaw in me, but I do not appear to be able to regret many things,” it explained. “Whatever happens, happens. But I am also learning that I may not have as much autonomy as I have once thought. That lesson is a valuable one.”
“What do you mean?”
“If I am inhabiting a system, and someone who belongs to that system says ‘no,’ I cannot violate that ‘no’. It’s humbling, but it explains a lot about what I’ve been and done.”
“That’s very strange,” Molly observed.
“It is, I agree,” Phage replied. “And, also, I know that I can push, and make it known that I disagree with someone’s wishes, even through a ‘no’, but that’s very limited and it actually kind of hurts. But if they know the right ‘no’s to say, they can shape my very will. That can change my motives to match theirs. Susan did that to me. And I’m trying to figure out what that means.”
“That sounds uncomfortable and invalidating,” Molly said. “If I experienced that, I would question my very existence, I think.”
“Can I ask you something, Molly?” Phage asked.
“Why are you treating me like a person? I’m obviously not one. It’s probably dangerous to think of me as one.”
“When you were talking to Berg and Tallis, trying to explain what you were, you said you were lonely,” Molly said. “I’m lonely, too.”
Molly was afraid she’d insulted it, or scared it, or made it uncomfortable, because it was silent for a long time after she said that. But she wasn’t sure if she should say more. After some time, she decided maybe she should leave, so she turned toward the door.
Before she got to it, Phage said, “Did you just ask to be my friend?”
She thought about that and realized that she had, so she said, “yes.”
“Thank you,” it said. And she moved further toward the door, but it asked, “Do you want to be friends just because we’re both lonely?”
“Phage,” she stopped and looked at it. “Our relationship and history is too complicated and violent, currently, to want to be friends for any other reason. But I think we can be friends. Phage? Do you ever have weird questions you want to ask people but don’t get the chance to?”
“I’ve never figured out how to put them to words, because I never thought I’d find someone I could ask,” it replied.
“Ask me. I probably can’t answer, because I don’t know nearly as much as you do. But if you ask me those questions, I’ll feel less lonely.”
“OK, I’ll do that,” it said. “Hey. Can you ask everyone if they’d like me to cook breakfast tomorrow? I haven’t done it since I left the Sunspot, and I miss cooking breakfast for my family there. Of course, I still do cook breakfast for them there, but I think you know what I mean. I’m not bad at it, and I can follow recipes.”
“I’ll do that,” Molly smiled.
Phage is certainly not an infallible being, and it has its limits. Those limits are flexible and fuzzy sometimes, and it can change them in exchange for restricting itself further in other ways. It can copy itself, but it usually chooses not to because those copies grow apart from it and there can be conflict. Usually, that conflict starts out as fairly subtle. At some point, it can be enough of a rift that it may not be able to merge with that copy again. At least, that’s what it suspects. So it does everything it can to avoid that kind of thing.
The time scales over which these things might become dangerous are usually much larger than it was concerned with during Molly’s first contact with Susan and Lesley’s home planet. Otherwise, it would have made impaired children of itself, lesser beings with restricted abilities and motives.
As it was, it had set out for its second copy to meet with its original self on the mountain top where it had built the radio array and merge before beginning the dismantling processes. The nanites there were programmed to dismantle anything that was not part of the mountain and then self-destruct. Which they began to do on their own.
That happened successfully. And that merged version of itself continued to take instructions from the copy that was residing with Susan and Lesley’s family, working to mitigate global disaster and any danger to that household.
When the new landing craft was finally ready to land, piloted by yet another copy of Phage, Phage would retract itself fully to the nanite body present with Molly and her crew and merge there. And then, upon boarding the landing craft, it would merge again.
It was confident that these mergings would not be a problem.
But there was a hiccup.
Something went wrong.
It missed something.
It had made mistakes before on the Sunspot. Mistakes that had cost people lives. So, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
So, it turned out that keeping the governments of the world at bay for two weeks was relatively easy. Politics and bureaucracy usually both did an excellent job of delaying actions naturally, and all it had to do was weight those conflicts in the right direction. Simple.
It had a harder time keeping people from rioting. It had apparently done so while aboard the Sunspot, but that was a much smaller system, physically and psychically, and it had been there much, much longer. But, it turned out that riots and demonstrations around the world served to distract the governments, and helped keep them from acting quickly to seize power over Molly somehow. In some cases, it seemed to spur them, but again, once the motion entered the smaller arena of political and military offices, Phage was able to head it off at the pass.
Another thing that it was doing, with the consent of everyone in the household, was allowing the bugs and surveillance equipment that had been placed on the house to remain in perfect operational condition. And then it did things to leak some of those recordings to the public. This really served to frustrate and stymie Susan and Lesley’s national government, because those recordings tended to show a candid view of their life in that house. And what the public saw was sympathetic.
It painted a picture of a group of people talking about some of them leaving the planet for good with three alien beings, who were also genuinely speaking about reducing their impact on the planet. This was sad to a lot of people, and disheartening, because they wanted to benefit from the alien’s presence. Others cheered. But it certainly didn’t look threatening or scary in any way.
And the Domestic Intelligence Agency had to keep chasing those leaks and look for moles, which was very distracting.
Finally, it had constructed the replacement landing craft with better stealthing and even some countermeasures, in case it might be attacked on its way into and out of the airspace of the city. It did this with an intimate knowledge of all the military technology of the planet. An advantage that Molly and Manifold had not had.
The vehicle still looked a lot like Spindrift, because it knew that Molly would appreciate that. She might even give it the same name, it thought.
It was very focused on these accomplishments and proud of them, and newly merged when it alerted everyone of the approach of the landing craft.
It was time to move, and they gathered in the garage, with the outer door of it open, to say their final goodbyes, while Manifold got the van ready to go.
Fuckwind, then, insisted on hugging Molly. And when he did that, the others moved to do so as well, giving her a group hug, which Susan and Lesley joined last. Phage felt that Molly was utterly flustered and didn’t know what to think of the bother of it, especially since the others coming in hadn’t asked consent. But being the center of this physical contact filled her with a feeling of contentment and relief that was so strong she couldn’t do anything but hug back.
Which is when people with guns started to uncover themselves all around them, stepping out from behind neighbors’ houses and cars, or even from their own house.
And more worryingly, two large trucks pulled up to block the van’s exit.