The Fifth Zhi
By Mercurio D. Rivera
Zhi 4’s scream pierces the Siberian night.
My spiked metal boots crunch through the snow as I race towards him, with Zhi 6 running at my side. The nanochip in my brainstem clicks on, and I reach out with my mind, but I can’t sense even a trace of Zhi 4. A few seconds earlier his form had been outlined by the dark turquoise glow of the force field.
We stop twenty feet short of the field’s perimeter. Beyond it, the hazy silhouette of the colossal Stalk looms, its millions of cilia undulating.
My bodysuit hums as it transmits data back to Xiang Xu Base, situated behind the Rusanov ice cap half a mile away.
My pulse flutters in anticipation and I take a deep breath to try to rein in my excitement. I — like all Zhis — have been designed with an insatiable curiosity about the Stalk’s origins and vulnerabilities. Knowing I’ve been bred to feel this way doesn’t make me feel it any less. Where did the Stalk come from? Why is it here? How can it thrive in these temperatures? I see the same questions reflected in Zhi 6’s expression.