Today's Reading

"Holy hell," Mallory said, barely hearing her own voice over the noise.

Mrs. Brown pulled Mallory back into the lift, gently but firmly. The doors didn't close, and they stayed watching the orb created by the constantly flying bodies.

"Easier to hear in here," Mrs. Brown shouted.

"Why are they working together?" Mallory asked. "I thought blue and silver didn't get along."

"The ones with the luxury of being a stand-alone hive can have principles," Mrs. Brown said. "The blue up top are content with gathering data like magpies and shiny things. The traveling silver are always on their way somewhere, but they like dropping in and messing with the blue. I do think they exchange information even during their little skirmishes. But down here, the station needs data and action. It needs communications and navigation. Both Sundry help with all of that."

Mallory stared at the swarm. "What happened when the station nearly self-destructed? Where were they then?"

"Most of them died. There was a port breach."

"How did you replace them? How did I not know about this?"

"I spoke with both silver and blue queens while you were recovering from your injuries," Mrs. Brown said. "They each offered a segment of their population to help out while these queens worked on building up the population again." She waved out at the swarm, then pointed high up a slick wall where two massive paper nests hung, adhering to the wall. "Queens can work hard to build up their population when they're focused on it. They also called some in from other areas, some other stations. And you probably didn't know because you were actively avoiding connecting with the Sundry after you healed."

"Yeah, okay, I need to learn more about them," Mallory allowed. "So, what do I do with this info, exactly? I mean, this is amazing, but I can't do much to affect it."

"You just need to connect with Eternity from time to time. She will tell you if she needs anything. I wanted to show you this because you wondered why I chose you instead of Xan. He connected with Infinity, but you connected with the Sundry, who also connect with the station."

"How do I connect with Eternity?" Mallory asked.

"I like to go into my garden and just sit there," Mrs. Brown said. "It's in the Heart. I can get you a cutting of her vines for your apartment so you can do it in private."

Mallory was silent while the lift doors closed, cutting off the incessant humming. The thought of another intimate symbiotic connection with the hivemind made her want to leap off the catwalk and call in dead to work. But she suspected Mrs. Brown thought she was whining, and, deep down, she agreed with the old lady. She tried to sense the Sundry at the edge of her awareness where they usually lurked, but felt nothing.

"Oh, there's one more reason I didn't ask Xan to help out," Mrs. Brown said. "He's going to be mad as hell at me in a little bit."

"Why?" Mallory asked, trying to imagine her quiet, slow-to-anger friend losing his temper.

"I told you, I'm taking Infinity. I'm essentially kicking him out of his apartment."

"Oh, no," Mallory said.

"He knows that he doesn't own her. And she will do what her mother tells her to." Mrs. Brown's tone held an undercurrent of unsaid "if she knows what's good for her."

The lift opened to Mallory's hallway. She stepped off but turned when Mrs. Brown held the doors open. "One more thing, dear," she said. "There's another shuttle from Earth coming in a few days. I will try to be back by then, but if I'm not, try to welcome them as best you can."

Mallory nodded, distracted. Her head had started to pound, and she fought a wave of dizziness.

Mrs. Brown watched her for a moment as if expecting something. Mallory stopped rubbing her forehead and asked, "Anything else?"

"No, nothing. Take care of yourself and take care of my station, dear," she said, and the door closed, that curious look finally shut with it.

She trudged down the hall, her room feeling too far away. She shivered, even as sweat broke out on her forehead.

"Christ, what's wrong with me?" 

She paused at her apartment door; an audible commotion drifted down the hall from around the corner. Several voices cried out in fear and annoyance, answered by a loud buzz. She recognized the sound at once; a Sundry swarm. A soccer riot had nothing on a Sundry swarm.

This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.

Monday May 27, we begin the book After World by Debbie Urbanskiwe. 

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