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The Real Broodmothers of Kalakissia

Angold sat forward as the woman on the holoviewer rounded another corner. She was sprinting through a long-derelict spaceship, its corridors lit only by the flickering orange of emergency lights. A few hundred feet behind her, a hideous insectoid creature was gaining ground, hissing and clacking its pincers as it tossed pipes and other debris out of its way.


A shiver worked its way up Angold's spine as the woman glanced over her shoulder, only to stumble and crash to the steel-mesh floor. She flipped over, shrieking and trying to shrink away as the creature lowered its dripping maw to her face.


There were some two-dozen multi-lensed, lidless red eyes quivering on the creature's head, but somehow, Angold knew they were all focused on the woman. It clicked its pincers together inches above her nose.


The Common Human translation skittered along the bottom of the screen.


YOUR WRINKLY HUMAN SKIN IS UNAPPETIZING. YOU SHOULD HAVE USED BROODMOTHER MARPOLA'S PATENTED LARVAL EXTRACT FOR AMAZING SKIN.


As the translation appeared on Angold's screen, a small device lit up inside the woman's ear, and a moment later, she gave an uneasy laugh.


"So ... so you don't want to eat me, then?"


CORRECT. I DO NOT WISH TO CONSUME YOUR DISGUSTING, SAGGY FLESH. HOWEVER, I EXERTED GREAT ENERGY TO DELIVER THIS IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSORS, AND REQUIRE NOURISHMENT.


The creature leaned forward and began to feed. After a few moments, the jingle for Broodmother Marpola's cut in over the woman's shrieks, with the logo filling up most of the blood-soaked screen. At the bottom of the holoviewer's frame, two things appeared by the woman's thrashing legs: a message alerting Angold that the product was now sourced from sustainably harvested larvae, and a large green BUY button.


Without thinking, Angold sat forward on his couch and swiped his hand through it. The cream would set him back two paychecks, but who could afford to be unappetizing?


Angold suddenly felt a pressing need to take a leak, but as he got up to do so, a soft, whiny buzzing - not unlike a dentist's drill - seemed to fill his head, and he slumped back onto the couch. As soon as he did, the buzzing ceased.


"Fuckin' tinnitus," Angold growled, jamming his pinky fingers into his ears. Safety precautions were time-consuming and unproductive, but sometimes he found himself wondering if he should at least be wearing ear protection while detonating thousands of micro-nuclear warheads a day for the mining conglomerate.


He pushed the pesky thought aside and glanced over his shoulder, where a creature similar to the one from the commercial hung suspended from the ceiling.


"Glerb, you'd never do me like that, would you?"


One of Glerb's eyestalks twitched, then focused on Angold. The other remained fixated on the holoviewer. Glerb ran his forearms over the quivering orifice that served as his mouth, then smeared saliva all over his face, flourishing his arms with each stroke. The device hanging loosely around his thorax projected the gesture's meaning as a string of words in the air:


DON'T MAKE ME CHASE YOU AND WE WON'T HAVE TO FIND OUT, FAM.


Angold shifted uneasily on the couch in the tense seconds of silence that followed. Finally, Glerb shimmied his abdomen.


NO SWEAT, FRIENDO, I MADE A HUMOR. I RECENTLY CONSUMED A NOURISHMENT CUBE, SO YOU HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT, BROH.


Angold released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, then started to laugh, turning back to the holoviewer. The image of the spaceship had since vanished, replaced by a simple message in Common Human:


BUY DUNKINBULLWEISER ENERGY BEER. NOW SOURCED FROM SUSTAINABLY HARVESTED LARVAE.


Another BUY button appeared beneath it, and Angold swiped again. As his hand passed through the emerald button, the urge to urinate returned. This time, there was no buzzing when he stood from the couch. When he returned to the rec room, a small green light appeared above the cryo-fridge. Angold opened it, retrieving a Dunkinbullweiser. To his horror, he realized there were only enough left to get him through the next two months, and wished he had double-swiped the BUY button.


Resolving to live and learn, he made his way back to the couch, cracking open the beer. Humanity had accomplished many things over the past several centuries, but somehow, the simple aluminum can remained the preeminent way to store and transport beer and all its multitudinous derivatives.


The holoviewer was inactive for the moment, with only a countdown to the beginning of the next show - The Real Broodmothers of Kalakissia - hovering in front of them. He knew he should get to bed, but Real Broodmothers was must-watch holovision.


In fact, he'd only ever missed a single episode. Once, after bonking his head on the way out of his mining rig's cab, he'd skipped the show, opting to use the holoviewer to read instead. A minute after the episode would have started, the dental-drill buzzing filled his head at an unimaginable volume, and he'd suffered an abrupt wave of nausea that didn't go away until he gave into the strange compulsion to remove his ring finger with a butterknife.


The next day, he tuned in as usual, and couldn't believe he'd ever wanted to miss all the action and fun of the broodmothers' quirky personalities and relatable problems that showed the horrifying insects weren't really all that different from the civilizations they ruled with utter impunity.


Nonetheless, the absence of any programming offered Angold the rare opportunity to craft an original thought. He embraced it with gusto.


"Glerb, you think I can finish this Dunkinbullweiser before Real Broodmothers starts?"


IF YOU CANNOT DO SO, I WILL SHAME YOU WITH BASELESS, NONSENSICAL ACCUSATIONS ABOUT YOUR GENITALIA, FAM.


"You're on!"


Angold promptly chugged the concoction. Once he'd finished it, a surge of energy filled him, and the heavy, sad feelings that'd been murmuring inside him since the end of his last shift vanished. The countdown to the next episode was still hovering in front of him, and Angold found himself faced with an almost unimaginable scenario. Here was an opportunity for a second original thought within the same day!


Eager to seize the moment, he plunged ahead.


"Glerb, want to see something cool?"


The insectoid creature buzzed its enormous wings for a moment, then turned both eyestalks toward Angold.


IF I DID, I WOULD LOOK AT AN IMAGE OF MYSELF, BROH.


After a few moments, Glerb shimmied his abdomen once more. A chortling Angold slapped his knee.


"You just don't quit, do you?"


THE AVERAGE LIFESPAN FOR MY SPECIES IS SEVEN MONTHS. WE LITERALLY DO NOT HAVE TIME TO QUIT, FAM.


This time, no shimmying accompanied the statement. Angold filled the dead air with a rumbling belch.


PLEASE PROCEED, BROH.


Angold exhaled, and with great gravitas, raised the empty can to his forehead.


WHAT ARE YOU DOING, FAM?


"I'm going to crush it against my head. Burt showed me how the other day, it was hilarious!"


THE SAME BURT WHO PURPOSEFULLY ATOMIZED HIMSELF ALONG WITH AN ENTIRE MINING COLONY LAST WEEK? OR BURT FROM ACCOUNTING, BROH?


Angold tried his very best to remember, but thinking about anything besides the present was always so difficult. Nonetheless, he managed.


"The first one."


AH YES, FRIENDO. LET'S ALL LISTEN TO THE HUMAN WHO ANNIHILATED HIMSELF AND THOUSANDS OF OTHER MINING ASSETS. I DON'T THINK THAT'S A GOOD IDEA, FAM.


Angold belched again. "Screw that! Nobody owns me!"


Before Glerb the wet blanket could object again, he smashed the can against his temple. A blinding white flash filled his vision, and for the first time in his life, Angold experienced piercing clarity. His attention no longer felt stretched in 387 different directions; he could focus alarmingly well on one thing at a time.


He promptly leaned over and vomited, sending it splashing through the steel mesh floor.


TOLD YOU THAT WAS A BONEHEAD MOVE, BROH.


Angold groaned, reeling back into his chair. Clarity was exhausting. Having retched up the Dunkinbullweiser he'd only just downed, an overwhelming weariness dropped over his body like a shroud, and he curled up on the couch.


"Why am I so tired, Glerb?"


YOU NEED MORE LIQUID NOURISHMENT, FAM.


Angold shook his head. "I don't think that's it, man. I don't ... do you think it's healthy to work twenty-one hours a day?"


THE BROODMOTHERS KNOW BEST, BROH.


Angold considered this briefly until another thought panging around in his mostly-empty head brought itself to the fore.


"Why is everything made from sustainably-sourced larvae? Don't you think it's weird Broodmother Marpola is turning over her children as fodder for megacorporations?"


NOT REALLY, FRIENDO. BROODMAMA'S GOTTA HUSTLE. THE STREETS ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE CONCEPT OF REST, FAM.


"Hmm." Angold glanced back at the holoviewer, pressing his lips into a thin line. "Guess that's just a human thing."


Glerb made what Angold recognized as a dismissive series of clicks and buzzes.


HUMAN REPRODUCTION IS LAUGHABLY INEFFICIENT, FRIENDO. OF COURSE YOU UPJUMPED MONKEYS OVER-INDEX TOWARD PROTECTIVENESS INSTEAD OF MAXIMAL SPAWN UTILITY, BROH.


Glerb vomited onto his forearms and dragged them over his eyestalks.


IN SEASON SEVENTY-SEVEN OF REAL BROODMOTHERS, BROODMOTHER MARPOLA COMPLETED HER CONQUEST OF THE DEWDROP SYSTEM. THROUGH THIS ACHIEVEMENT SHE WILL HAVE ENSNARED ENOUGH HOSTS TO GENERATE QUADRILLIONS OF VIABLE OFFSPRING BY THE MIDSEASON FINALE, WHICH IS MORE THAN SHE COULD EVER HOPE TO SUPPORT, FRIENDO. SO WHY NOT SACRIFICE SOME OF THEM FOR FAT STACKS? ALSO I DON'T REMEMBER YOU GETTING THIS UPSET IN SEASON FIFTY-FOUR WHEN BROODMOTHER SPREGG LOST AN ENTIRE GENERATION OF DRONES INFIGHTING WITH MARPOLA OVER A PERCEIVED INSULT RESULTING FROM HER GARISH FASHION DISASTER IN THE NEBULA CLUSTER, FAM.


Angold frowned. "That was different."


DIFFERENT MY [SIMILAR HUMAN WORD UNAVAILABLE]! TRILLIONS DIED AND THAT'S NOT EVEN INCLUDING THE CIVILIZATIONS CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THEIR SPAT. ADMIT IT, YOU ARE JUST A SIMP FOR SPREGG, BROH.


Glerb crossed his antennae in what Angold recognized as a respectful request for silence, despite the words floating in front of him:


IT IS STARTING. CLOSE YOUR WORDHOLE, BROH.


The title card flashed on the holoviewer, and a quick recap of the last segment played. Deep in the bowels of her hive in New York City, which had been utterly destroyed during the War of Conquest, the bloated, thousand-eyed Broodmother Spregg vomited acid onto a group of drones as they reported the latest mining output. Hundreds of larvae wriggled out of their eggs on the walls, and soon the drones had disappeared beneath the pale, writhing mass.


"Heh." As he watched the larvae feast, Angold felt the horrifying weight of clarity dissipate ever so slightly. Behind him, Glerb also buzzed his amusement. But before the light of reasoning guttered out completely, Angold found himself confronted with one more thought.


"Say, Glerb," he began, his eyes fixed on the nub of his ring finger as if seeing it for the first time. "You ever wonder whether this whole show is some kind of ploy to normalize our oppressors? To keep us from seeing them as the genocidal parasites they really are?"


Glerb scratched his eyestalks as he considered the query.


NO.


Angold frowned again but found he didn't have anything further to offer. Out of the corner of his eye, the green light blinked to life above the fridge, and he realized he was absolutely parched. No surprise there, he thought - he had, after all, sent most of his last Dunkinbullweiser through the floor slats.


As he walked toward the fridge, the dental-drill buzzing filled his head, but at a tolerable volume. Still, getting any kind of rest after the show seemed somehow less important than it had been during the commercial break. After all, there were always minerals that needed mining. He could skip his sleep two-hour sleep period and pick up some overtime to help cover his purchases, then roll right into his next shift.


You don't get ahead in this galaxy by sleeping, he reasoned, cracking open a new can and falling back onto the couch. Before long, he'd fully focused his attention on The Real Broodmothers, where Broodmother Spregg was bringing the severed, twitching torso of her latest assistant to her maw.


I'M SURE GLAD WE DIDN'T MISS THIS EPISODE, FRIENDO. HER ASSISTANT HAD THAT COMING EVER SINCE SHE BOTCHED SPREGG'S 1067TH BIRTHDAY EVENT AT THE SKI CHALET ON SWEDEN-93, FAM.


"Too right, buddy, too right," Angold said. Clarity had been interesting, but he didn't think he'd be pounding any more beer cans against his head. After all - did he want to risk anything interfering with the next episode of The Real Broodmothers?


Fat chance, broh.




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