Mad, as if in Prayer

The Theseus needs no weapons. It needs no drones. It is equipped to absorb and evade a certain percentage of incoming attacks, but rarely must it withstand more than two volleys, because our crew includes no fewer than four Mantis soldiers, whose modus operandi is to teleport onto an enemy ship and massacre its crew. When a Mantis falls in battle, a clone appears in the cloning bay moments later. When an enemy crew attempts to resist destruction by retreating to their healing bay, we fire a lockdown missile to seal the poor devils in the engine room, for instance, where our Mantis killers cut them down. As a last resort or diversion, we deploy the mind control system and turn one human rebel against his fellows.

In this era of rebellion, the Federation has placed its hope of preservation in the Theseus. We, its captains, administer bloodbaths in the course of our mission. Purportedly, officially, we are fully justified in employing our methods, however brutal they may seem to our colleagues, however much those colleagues may whisper behind our backs, however uneasy it makes them that we command a Mantis ship and hire as many Mantis soldiers as will fit in the hold. The few other members of our crew would rather not work with Mantises, just as the other races of the Federation at large would rather not count the Mantis among their allies; but our crew will not mutiny, and the Federation will not part ways with the Mantis. Without the Mantis, the human rebels would surely conquer the Federation.

Other captains destroy rebel ships—in accordance with their code of honor, they suppose. We are content to slaughter rebel crews. Leave the ship intact, we say, only wash the deck in human blood. Other captains panic when the enemy boards their ship; we relish the opportunity to send our Mantises into the breach. Long have we felt an affinity for these overgrown insects, this teeming intergalactic pestilence. We could not, any longer, bear to command some other crew, some group of men or women who valued their lives. The Mantis take no prisoners and refuse to be taken. An individual Mantis may die, but another of the same name will presently take its place. The Mantis do not rest until the enemy ship is drifting uselessly, lifelessly in space. Likewise, we do not rest until the enemy ship, unscathed, falls silent. What a pathetic delusion is a code of honor when seen through the Mantis eye.

One single worry, and one only, keeps us up at night. What if, in the crucial moment, in the last battle, we encounter a self-captained ship? What if, after we had killed an entire crew of eight men and women, in short order and with no little relish, the ship’s computer were then to assume control? Our Mantises are capable of demolishing a ship, slowly but surely, by smashing its systems one by one. And our Mantises have no fear of perishing in the wreck, for their selfsame namesakes will appear aboard the Theseus in short order. But what if the enemy ship’s computer were to erect a shield that blocked teleportation? What if the enemy ship’s computer were to fire drones at the Theseus, set its rooms ablaze, take control of Nazia’s mind, or Monsvik’s, or Ferry’s? A Mantis mind is not difficult to dominate; it possesses no resources with which to resist subjugation.

What gives us no peace, what haunts us even in that sublime moment following a battle, in that quiet moment of mandibular clicking and mechanical buzzing, is the dim recognition that our dream means something different from what we have dreamed it meant. The overflowing, inextinguishable life, the metastatic vitality of the Mantis, is not, as we had thought, or as we had wanted to believe, the true apotheosis of our vision. If someday the final battle takes the form that our nightmares take, of an automated terror, then it will have been the enemy, not we, who followed the argument to its furthest conclusion. The enemy, not we, will have realized that the best way to extinguish enemy life is not to inundate it with irrepressible Mantis life, but rather to calculate, with mineral efficiency and mathematical precision, the complete, irrevocable dissolution of living matter. These Mantis butchers, our proxies in the battle against recalcitrant humanity, would then dissolve into space like so many atoms, like so many monads without purpose.