As I slowly come alert after a night of solitary drinking I stretch in the dark, pushing against my cell walls, listening to the rustle of my nest-mates deep in their dreaming.
What the fuck?
Terror grips me as I scramble to put sense to my environment. I feel eight arm/legs. Shards of chitin litter my cell. There's only one answer that fits reality-- I'm a bleeding spider, and I've just pupated.
gasp. gasp. gasp. Calm down, dammit. I rub my legs over my ovipostor, getting used to my size and proportions. Concepts and information boil up at me out of my brain: I' a five-foot-tall, twelve-foot-wide freaking spider. The game. Consensual reality. Damn! I'm on a sleeper ship. Zeegee. I don't feel any gravity. Things start to come together.
We collectively call ourselves the untriggered. We live and die as pupae until we arrive. The consensual reality we call "The Game" keeps us sane as we travel down the eons waiting ... waiting. We are NOT soft little gibbering creatures that make nasty noises. We are arachnea. we EAT nasty soft little gibbering creatures. I clash my fangs twice as I attempt to grin. Damn. I'm gonna miss my face. And my booze. Now I digest alcohol and antifreeze like sugar, just another food source.
Wait. Wait for it. There. I am first among the triggered. I am of command rank. We have arrived.
My pedipalps rise to fire the latches and my cell opens. I stretch to my full height and breadth for the first time in my six hundred years. Suddenly the phrase "Dreaming my life away" takes on a whole new meaning. I remember music. Never again.
I stalk down the dark corridor, easily making out the shapes in the dark. A never-seen yet familiar junction takes me up to the command deck. I pull myself easlily up the tube finding small regular pockets in the walls with the tips of my pedipalps. I rise into the room to find the ship's central nest. It calls to me and I obey. New scent triggers strike me and memories flood my senses. Racial memory. Clan wars. The great weaving of the sky hooks. I gain new understanding.
We come from an ancient race. Our ancestors rode the wind on gossamer strands of silk. I survey the ship about me thru the ancient organic processors that have protected and guided us down the millenia. Yes, Ages. A flash of calculation fills my mind like a lightning bolt. We have truly been "lucky". Many, many millions to one against.
The processors continue the activation. New scents enfold the latest selected commander. Blocks of information swell into its mind. Conceptual frameworks click into place. "Human" falls further away into memory. The commander is running system checks against the stored biological matrices, attempting to resolve collisions in the ancient error- correcting codes. Surprisingly little has been lost due to redundant caches and error correction. Nothing irreplaceable. The most critical, the landing computer seed, is perfect. Without that there would be no mass triggering, not even an attempt at progress. they would simply hang in space forever.
The system which the game portrayed was ahead. The enormous magnetorestrictive ramjet generators had reversed several decades before, bringing them down to a tensor space only minutely deformed by tau contraction. The system gravity well was dragging the local reference frame more than the ship's local gradient. That was the event which had caused the system to trigger the awakening.
The commander noticed that the gravity differential was a decade past the point at which he should have become aware. A system query produced the answer--This commander was the 35th attempt at integration. This gave one pause. A scan thru the records of the previous activations showed insanity due to retained game-personality characteristics. A flaw in the system. Genderless, yet "He" remembered the ennui, going thru the motions as it were-- he was simply waiting to die, without children, mates or pets, alone in his own little world. Then the pains began in his hands, arms, shoulders, back, knees, feet--he was sure that he was falling apart and was about to blow his brains out when he awoke as this new, incredible bio-machine. Rising, picking his way to the wall, he requested a mirror surface. He looked deadly. A giant black widow. Rising up, white sigils marked his abdomen--the marks of a commander were rising in white. He had passed the maturation tests and his markings reflected it. Now a male of his species, he returned to his nest.
The landing computer seed was coaxed into germination and the ship's tired array of maintenance processors were replaced one by one. Due to his discovery of the flaw in the game that had destroyed so many of his fellows, he injected certain commands and constraints into the game computers. There were going to be some very unhappy players during the next few days, weeks and months.
The magnetic fields comprising the scoop fields were in danger of collapsing. They were entering the Oort cloud surrounding the system. The generators had to be reconfigured quickly. The next level of staff were triggered and the commander selected eight more nests to rise from the deck. Soon the great toroidal vessel was driving thru the system playing gravitic fields against each other. This drive was slow at interplanetary distances yet quite efficient. Enormous reservoirs were filled from Jupiter's roiling atmosphere, compressed high-temperature feedstocks were siphoned thru great valved tubes spun from carbon and other elements, great valves opened and closed as the ship drove up and down imitating a mosquito feeding as the hydrocarbon feed stock was gradually pumped up into storage.
Nobody on Earth had an idea of what was out there.
The great ship sailed on to the asteroid belt, remnants of the proto-fifth planet. Great mirrors spun out. Asteroids were captured and their wealth sublimated off and collected. The feedstocks grew.
Flashes of light from past the orbit of Mars puzzled several astronomers. Thesis papers were written. Doctorates were granted. Nobody guessed the truth.
Several years passed until the great processors evaluated the marginal probabilities as successful. The efforts of the ship shifted. Craft were grown, great tanks seeded with life forms and more of the untriggered were prepared. The ship was fully alive for the first time since its launching. Atmosphere processing beds were fully activated in preparation for the hive to rise.
Following the midnight line, the great ship circled the Earth, dispensing tiny frozen droplets nestled within their individual heatshields, falling silently through the atmosphere to disperse into billions of organic machines designed to wait sixty days, seek out and populate anything warm-blooded, reproduce for four days, kill their host, then die within four more days.
Somewhere between a virus and bacterium in size, their delayed activation allowed them to be disseminated via skin, hair, clothing and vehicles. They were tracked into homes, businesses, hospitals, factories and military bases. A few document storage caves remained uninfected.