The First Mission of Seth-7

T. Fox Dunham

April 1, 2022

Lieutenant Seth-7 watched on the monitor the City-Star of Pusan shrink behind as the infiltration shuttle made its approach. The chaotic city, built within a hollowed planetoid as the last civilized refuge before deep space, sailed alone in the midnight sea.

The pilot displayed a silver vector on the monitor, projecting a course through the refugee ships circling the flying city. The ships struggled to keep orbit, most sewn together like quilts from salvaged parts taken from antiquated ships. Their holds swelled with human refugees, lost souls fleeing from Reaper occupied space, running from the butchers to the last safe outpost of human civilization.

“How many?” 1st Tech Sun asked, standing next to him. She adjusted her grav-ring, correcting a vertical error that tilted her floating body. Her body straightened. The bright images of the tatterdemalion ships glowed on her papyrus-wrinkled face.

“UF Command’s last tally had it at over eight million souls. Pusan was built to accommodate one million. She’s bursting.”

“So this is it,” she said. “The last of the humans gathered, a last stand against the dark.”

The shuttle cleared the first ring of refuge ships. They had eight more to clear before leaving Pusan space to meet the approaching threat.

“I do not believe there is any need to dramatize the strategic situation,” Lt. Seth-7 said. “There’s no call for hyperbole.”

1st Tech Sun changed the controls on the gravity ring and levitated to reach his head, then she flicked his temple.

“Maybe you’ve got a short in that electromagnetic coconut of yours,” she said. “You’ve got emotions. Your weavers gave them to you. The memories and experiences of those seven human veterans would be of little use without emotions. Do you feel nothing about this? All this suffering?”

Lt. Seth-7 sighed. The air bleeder in his chest slowly exhaled.

“I’m still getting used to life,” he said “I’m sure my emotions will come online eventually. I feel little things. I saw a moon-bloom in the lapel of an old woman yesterday before the briefing. Blue, stringy petals. It made me feel… it wasn’t humor. I think. Well, I tingled.”

“Tingled!” she said. “There’s hope for you yet, Foxy.”

He tingled in his chest, stimulated by an emotional association to that moniker. He understood the term and shouldn’t have felt any special sensation to its usage. He might have let the familiarity slide, but because of military protocol he admonished her.

“That’s Lieutenant, 1st Tech. I may be synthetic, but I’m still your superior.”

She curved a wry smile on her chapped lips, ran her hand through her silvery waves of hair. She floated back to the ship’s hold.

“Yes, sir, Lieutenant Foxy.”

He let it pass.

“Pilot. ETA to Reaper swarm?”

“Halfway to hell,” the pilot said. “Twenty minutes once we enter grav-slip.”

“Very good,” Lt. Seth-7 said. He’d practiced saying it with authority to hide the wavering in his voice. He turned to join his company in the ship’s hold and shut the bulkhead behind him As the portal sealed, he sensed the pinch on his tissue, the micro-moment of extreme gravity when the shuttle dropped into grav-slip.

When they reached their target, the back of the shuttle would separate and fire a booster. It’s what UF Command called a Higgins boat, an ancient vessel used by primitive armies in the past to land on beaches during an invasion.

“Twenty minutes,” he announced to his marines. “Get ready to deploy, Beta Company.”

“Well, it can count, even tell time,” said Master Sergeant Saint. “Guess Command taught it some new tricks.” He lashed Lt. Seth-7 with a crimson ray projected from his prosthetic eye, scanning the Paladin. Some of the marines in Beta Company laughed, not bothering to hide their derision about their new commanding officer.

Lt. Seth-7 considered threatening disciplinary action, but he decided to exercise patience. This wasn’t going to be an easy transition, and his marines needed time to get used to it.

“Then he’s already smarter than you, Saint,” 1st Tech Sun said.

The same few marines laughed.

Sergeant Saint locked in the magnetic accelerator component on his plasma rifle, then he checked the gun, making sure all the bits were properly connected. The other marines examined their rifles.

“Sorry, 1st Technician,” Sergeant Saint said. “Didn’t mean to offend your boyfriend.”

“Attention,” Lt. Seth-7 said.

The marines shut their mouths.

“We have a job to do. And that’s it. I know you don’t trust me, that you don’t think I’m a man. And no, I’m not a man like you, not like your last commander. I’m synthetic. My mind is an electromagnetic field. My muscles and bones are woven from a polymer. But the experiences and memories of seven great warriors live in me. I can lead you. And we will stop the Reaper threat. This is the last stand. If those monsters break through to Pusan City, humanity ends here. With United Forces fighting on several fronts, we are the last defense. I don’t have a soul, but I’m all you’ve got.”

1st Tech Sun grinned. She looked ready to clap. He sensed a need for her to be proud of him. It threw him a bit, distracted his focus. She felt so familiar, yet he’d never encountered her before taking this assignment.

Lt. Seth-7 paced the sealed hold. Beta Company waited, compressed springs, strapped into their deployment chairs, waiting for the order to eject and infiltrate. They had a simple mission: penetrate the Reaper command spider and mine their fusion core. The command ship controlled the bio-units, and the fleet would freeze once the brain was disconnected.

The marines did a final equipment check, examining their synthetic, silver body suits for damage, testing the communication relays in their helmets, loading power cores into their plasma rifles. Seven marines attached the mines to their belts so the explosives could be easily detached and deployed. Their small shuttle would sneak in through the perimeter while Pusan Defense Force and the 89th Flotilla kept the swarm engaged in space, diverting the enemy’s attention. The enemy would concentrate most of its bio-units in space, leaving the command spider vulnerable, but they would have a short window before their presence would be detected.

The captain activated the intercom:

“We’ve got a swarm,” he said.

Lt. Seth-7 activated the briefing monitor. A formation of wasps bore down on their wing. The eyes of the organic vessels—pulsing in carapace, jaws leaking oil—scanned the dark, hungry for the human ships. They folded their wings and dove at the UF wing. Their organics had been crafted from human flesh, sliced and cut then woven again and genetically spliced. Lt. Seth-7 gazed on the machinations and madness of the Preacher, the leader of the Reapers, and he felt a new emotion, one he wasn’t sure was appropriate.

“1st Tech Sun?”

She floated next to him on her gravity ring. Her spine had cracked in a battle twenty years hence.

“Do you find that… beautiful?” he asked.

The ship rocked, knocking him into the bulkhead before she could respond.

“Get ready to make your run,” the pilot announced. “They’ve got their jaws on our bums nice and tight.”

Lt. Seth-7 joined his company and secured himself in his chair. He reached beneath it for his gear and found a riding crop. 1st Tech Sun grinned at him before sealing her helmet.

“Your idea?” he asked over the comm.

“I had a hunch you’d enjoy it.”

He felt the length of the crop. It felt right in his hand and quickly joined the action of his arm as he gave final orders to Beta Company.

“Lord, protect these men and women on this righteous battle in Your name,” prayed Sergeant Saint. Lt. Seth-7 set his comm so only 1st Tech Sun would hear him so he wouldn’t disturb the ceremony.

“He always prays before a mission?”

“Indeed,” she said. “Don’t you?”

“It’s my first real mission,” he said.

Why did he feel so comfortable talking to her? It couldn’t be a need for a maternal figure. He’d not been born of woman.

“Don’t you believe in a god? A higher being?”

The ship rocked. Alarms sung with banshee keen. With enhanced tactile senses, Lt. Seth-7 felt the ship breaking apart. The hull cracked beneath them. The shuttle suffered another blow. Sparks rained from the above conduit.

“Give me a little time,” he said. “I’ve just gotten started with basic emotions.”

He scanned his marines: geared up and sealed in black helmets, their human essence concealed. Each waited, weapon readied, renewed in faith after Sergeant Saint’s prayer. They’d found peace, confidence before the mission, but the prayer had given nothing to Lt. Seth-7. He felt emptier among them.

Sergeant Saint held a holo-photo, careful not to crush the chip. Their gauntlets augmented their strength.

“My dame,” he said. “Betty Blue. Look at them eyes! Like twin azure moons. Silver glitter and gold. She’s the executive officer on the Pegasus, a refugee ship. She’s safe. They launched yesterday to pick up more of the poor buggers. She thinks I’m a hero.”

“Think she’ll dump you when she finds out the truth?” 1st Tech Sun said.

The marines laughed over the comm. Sergeant Saint joined them. He slipped the chip into a pouch on his silver suit.

The hull cracked. Decompression sucked the atmosphere out of the hold. Equipment broke free of restraints and ripped through the crack into deep space. A crate hit one of the marines, cracking his visor. Blood shot through the broken helmet in a pressure jet.

“It’s now or never!” yelled 1st Tech Sun.

“Deploy,” Lt. Seth-7 ordered.

She set the ship into release mode on the computer console on her arm. The Higgins boat broke free and fired its booster, thrusting clear of the shuttle. Lt. Seth-7 viewed overhead into open space and watched the shuttle crack into bits of fuselage. A Reaper wasp spit yellow flares from its mouth, and the shuttle ignited in a white explosion. The shock wave hit the Higgins boat. Lt. Seth-7 sensed a rib cracking from the force. It would mend by the time they made it to the target.

1st Tech Sun monitored their trajectory. Below, the Reaper command spider coordinated its minions. Its obsidian skin flashed crimson and orange, reflecting the telepathic orders it transmitted to the wasps. Black hairs the size of a man flexed and flowed along the carapace, stirred to such frenzy by its hunger satiated. The wasps captured soldiers floating in space after ejecting from their ships and dropped them in the command ship’s jaws. It sucked them down and swallowed. It swung its eight tendrils at the attacking ships, crushing their hulls then slurping down their contents like a juice box.

“Twenty seconds to target,” 1st Tech Sun said. “Still don’t believe in God, yet?”

Lt. Seth-7 didn’t answer her. He tried to focus his thoughts on the mission: penetrate the shell, fight your way to the fusion core, detonate the mines and save the collective human ass. Still, memories of a voice distracted him, a lady’s voice, sweet like a violin. He’d heard her when his mind activated, when he’d first come online at Icarus station a year ago.

Seth . . . my Seth. Awaken now my love, her voice said, drawing him from the darkness, the void between life and beyond.

“Ten seconds.”

The angel manifested briefly, a glimpse, a frisson from his soul. She flew with butterfly wings, adorned in white gown, a golden halo pulsing over her silver hair.

“Five seconds.”

“She sang me to life,” he said. “She was an angel.”

* * *

Lt. Seth-7 had been woven from the memories and experiences of heroes who had lived in the hundred years since the Reaper war had begun and brought humanity to the edge of extinction. The Reaper abominations were woven of human flesh and organs, organized anew and set to evil task—to devour and reproduce more of their kind. Their jaws always salivated. Their minds existed as gestalt, and all the vital experience gained by their soldiers was shared among their race.

The Paladin program was created by the Science Directive to transfer the recorded memories and experience of their best warriors into a vessel that could make use of both. All soldiers wore transceivers that imprinted their neural patterns. It took a century to make something useful of them. They built a stronger warrior, woven of synthetic tissue and real flesh, bladders to breathe, plastic bones that resisted breaking, a clear mind woven for war. They’d designed Lt. Seth-7 with human features—raven-feathered hair, chiseled chin, and thin dexterous body. Only his eyes reminded Beta Company of his inhuman origin; they burned silver, flashing light on the target of his sight.

Lt. Seth-7 scanned the remaining troops of Beta Company. 1st Tech Sun floated next to him, checking vital signs on her arm terminal. Seven of thirty survived the impact with the obsidian carapace of the command spider. Sergeant Saint was the only one with the proper mines to do the job of blowing the fusion core.

Lt. Seth-7 hung onto the riding crop. He fiddled with it.

The crimson light of Sergeant Saint’s prosthetic eye lashed over Lt. Seth-7’s face.

“A lot of men dead,” he said. “Processing that? A lot of cold numbers.”

1st Tech Sun shoved him into the smooth, black skin of the corridor. The outside of Lt. Seth-7’s visor fogged from the hot moisture in the ship’s atmosphere. He wiped his helmet clear. Their entry holes, burned through when they’d ejected from the Higgins Boat, had already healed. They had tools to cut their way out if necessary, but Lt. Seth-7 didn’t really believe they’d need them.

“What are you?” Sergeant Saint said. “His wife?”

Lt. Seth-7 held her shoulder.

“I can fight my own battles,” he said.

She shrugged.

“Sergeant Saint. Check the perimeter. 1st Tech Sun. Scan the vessel. Access the best route to the fusion core. Did we insert into our target location?”

She scanned the mass of bone and flesh and hungry mouths. Nerves surged in the smooth walls, crackling with electrons.

“We are six clicks from the fusion core,” she said. “Perfect insertion.”

Sergeant Saint ordered the remaining marines into defensive positions.

“Lead the way, 1st Tech” Lt. Seth-7 said.

1st Tech Sun scanned the corridors ahead then studied her terminal. She took point with marines at her nine and six, plasma rifles raised at their sides.

“Picking up an ELM transmission from Pusan,” she said. “Text only. This monster is emitting a hot EM field, blocking most transmissions.”

The company heard her swallow a sob over the comm. Behind her plastic visor, she had no means to wipe away the tears.

“The defenses of Pusan have failed,” she said. “If we don’t blow this thing. That’s it.”

He reached out and rubbed her shoulder. She looked up and stared at him through her helmet.

“Foxy,” she said. “It’s me.”

He resisted the urge to hold her.

The guard on her six lifted and slammed into the corridor wall. His body went limp, then the scorpion tail that stabbed through his abdomen slammed him again, shattering his helmet, breaking the shell from the flesh.

“Fire,” Lt. Seth-7 yelled. His muscles tensed. He aimed his rifle, guided by his enhanced vision, and blasted the Reaper scorpions. In their flesh, he could make out human faces, elbows. Toes fused in their joints. Fingers sealed the ridges on their necks. At the top of the stalks that served as their heads, human eyes focused on the marines.

Beta company joined the firefight. It took several hits before one of the beasties stumbled and collapsed on the floor.

From the side of his vision, he watched another of the beasts aim its tail at 1st Tech Sun. She focused her fire on the group attacking the core of marines at the rear. Lt. Seth-7 knew if he broke suppressing fire on his target, it gained an attack of opportunity. Logic dictated he’d focus on his target. Survival of command preceded the safety of his troops.

He broke from his attack and aimed above the 1st Tech, hitting his new target in its soft underbelly. Its abdomen exploded in pink jelly, expelling several human organs. His previous target took its chance and punctured his leg with a talon, lifting Lt. Seth-7 into the air. It slammed him into the floor with enough force to kill any human. Lt. Seth-7 aimed his rifle, struggling to hold it still. The searing pain in his leg burned into his groin, his chest, distracting him from his shot. He fired, hitting the soft underbelly. The beastie screeched then collapsed.

1st Tech Sun knelt and reached out her arm, helping him up.

“You’re a danger to me,” Lt. Seth-7 said. “I am too human around you. Why?”

“Inclinations of the solar winds,” she said. “The only way we’re going to survive this war is if we’re all too human.”

Two beasts remained and blocked the back corridor. The marines held them back.

“We’re close,” 1st Tech Sun said. “Down one level and into the core. We don’t have much time before we’re in range of Pusan. The explosion will take them out too. There’s, well, what looks like an airlock close. Though I’d call it a sphincter.”

“A sphincter will do,” Lt. Seth-7 said.

Sergeant Saint turned his head, studying the left scorpion.

“Those eyes,” he said. “I’m filled with love when I see those peepers. Baby blue like earth skies. I was born on the earth.”

“Steady on, Sergeant,” Lt. Seth-7 said. He understood.

“Prettiest blue eyes on Pusan. Kind of glittery. She said it was a birth defect, but I thought it was proof of angels. How I fell off the moon when I looked into her eyes.”

The beastie gazed at the Sergeant, piloting its stolen, glittery blue eyes, expressing its hate, its hunger, perverting the orbs that once knew only love. This Reaper fleet must have devoured ships flying away from Pusan City, including the Pegasus. They’d used the harvested flesh to weave and graft new troops.


“Sergeant. No.”

He dropped his rifle and charged at the beastie. He tore at its carapace with his fingers. The scorpions tore his body to shreds between the two of them, sucking down his succulent, red flesh.

“Move it,” Lt. Seth-7 ordered.

They laid down fire and ran through the corridor. They climbed down an artery flooded with brown fluid and emerged through a membrane wall into the heart of the command spider.

* * *

“Emotion can’t be a strength,” Lt. Seth-7 said. He bandaged his punctured leg then sealed the hole in his suit. The wound would heal in a day. He ignored the pain piercing through the bone.

“It is the only strength we have,” 1st Tech Sun said, breathing hard into the comm from running.

The four of them darted down the lower corridor. Two more marines had fallen prey to the beasties. They’d paused to enjoy their meal, giving the remaining company time.

“Perhaps it would be better if I remained a machine.”

“Saint would have kept trying,” she said. “He would have torn those things apart with his hands to save her. Don’t you see? He never would have given up, never would have stopped. This is what we are, Lt. Seth-7. I know you have it in you, too. I know it!”

A scorpion hoard chased them down, their stingers lashing through the air. The remaining marines fired down the corridor, holding them off.

“So any thoughts on how we take this thing down?” 1st Tech Sun said. “Saint had the last of the mines.”

“Ask me again when we get there,” Lt. Seth-7 said. “I’ll have a plan.”

They reached the fusion chamber, at least that’s what her terminal told them. It was nothing like Lt. Seth-7 had ever seen. A sweating mass, a pulsing nest that beat like a human heart. It hung from thick tendrils that fed it clear fluid. Golden jelly flowed from the heart down ducts leading into the pink membrane covering the floor.

“How about that plan?” she said.

He sighed.

“I may have underestimated the time I required to formulate one.”

She scanned the chamber with her terminal.

“There,” she said, pointing at one of the veins emerging from the wall to their left. “It’s basically a fusion chamber, though the plumbing is different. It needs coolant. We take out that . . . pipe, and this honey is off to meet its maker.”

She squeezed the vein, applying pressure on the rushing fluid. It bubbled beneath the membrane.

“Not much tougher than linguini.”

Lt. Seth-7 reached into his boot and detached a plasma cutter. They might have used them to cut their way through bulkheads to evacuate after their mission.

“I’ll give you two minutes to get to the airlock and hit your escape booster,” he said. “Then I’ll slice it.”

“Oh no you don’t,” she said.

The plasma fire intensified in the corridor, moving closer. The scorpions overran the remaining marines.

“You don’t remember me,” she said.

“Ghosts,” Lt. Seth-7 said. “I see your face in a mist, though you are younger, new eyes searching mine. You want so much from me: a life, love, children in your womb. I only see it now.”

The visions rushed his thoughts, connecting to dormant memories, tugging on their strings, winding their turnkeys and bringing them back to life. It rained on him like a thunderstorm. They had a home in Sol system, a red dome on the rusty dirt of Mars. Then war came, the Preacher came.

They heard the Preacher broadcast over the membranes of the ship. The Reaper ships approached Pusan City, and the Preacher cried out his gospel to the city, to comfort and terrify. And so the Preacher came to destroy, while the synthetic man and his wife from another life waited at the core of its plasma heart, knife ready to sever:

“Oh children of humankind, lost sans purpose, vacant of faith. How you suffer, my children, and you know not that you suffer. I do not come to you from malice of spirit or greed. I come to you with open arms to relieve you of your burdens. Kneel before your divinity and beg for deliverance, and I shall grant it to you. My children. I shall take your burdens. I will free your souls. Become one with my spirit, my army. Do not resist, and the great kingdom shall be yours. Resist, and your suffering has only just begun. Now, we feed the appetite that is never slaked. Your flesh will be our flesh. Your bones will be our bones. Your soul shall be mine.”

“The Preacher speaks his litany,” she said. “This beast is about to chomp its jaws down on Pusan.”

“I must do this, Sun,” Lt. Seth-7 said. “It is my duty. I lost this company. These men died beneath my command. I must honor them.”

She pulled the torch from her boot.

“I knew it was you the moment I saw you. I slipped the riding crop beneath your chair. My Lance enjoyed riding so, took it with him on missions. He must have been your sixth soul. I lost him to the Reapers so young. If I am to die again, let it be forever.”

“I’ll give you one minute,” Lt. Seth-7 said. “Get to the airlock.”

She ignited the torch. An azure stream flared from the nozzle.

“Stay if you wish, but I’m not losing you again, my love. You must go. We need you. I need you to live on.”

She steadied her gravity ring then kissed him softly. Then she pulled back and held the torch to the coolant tube.

“It’s alright, Lance my love,” she said. “All things die. Be happy.”

Lt. Seth-7 ordered the remaining marines to follow him. He didn’t turn back to look one last time at 1st Tech Sun. He’d see her enough in the coming nights. They laid down another round of plasma fire then ran for the airlock. He shot the controls, and the vacuum sucked them into space over Pusan City.

“I’m sorry I could not love you,” he said into his comm on the rare chance his lost wife might hear him. “But perhaps I will try.”

T. Fox Dunham lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his wife, Allison. Throughline Films is developing his first book, The Street Martyr, into a film or series. He’s been published hundreds of times in all genres, and he was host and producer of the “What Are You Afraid of?” Horror & Paranormal Show. Fox is a cancer survivor, though the treatment disabled him, an experience he wrote about in his popular medical horror novel, Mercy, published by Blood Bound Books. Learn more at his website: