As much as possible of what you can’t. And hope that this new
reduced time limit would expire before Rorschach spiked us into
gibbering dementia.
The walls around me twitched and shivered like the flesh of
something just-killed. Something darted in and out of sight with a
faint cackle of laughter.
Focus. Record. If the grunt doesn’t see it, it’s not real.
Sixty-five meters in, one of the ghosts got inside my helmet.
I tried to ignore it. I tried to look away. But this phantom wasn’t
flickering at the edge of vision; it hovered near the center of my
faceplate, floating like a spot of swirling dizziness between me and
the HUD. I gritted my teeth and tried to look past, stared into the
dim bloody haze of the middle distance, watched the jerky
unfolding travelogues in the little windows labeled Bates and
James. Nothing out there. But in here, floating before my eyes,
Rorschach’s latest headfuck smeared a fuzzy thumbprint right in
front of the sonar feed.
“New symptom,” I called in. “Nonperipheral hallucination,
stable, pretty formless though. No spiking that I can—”
The inset marked Bates skidded hard about. “Keet—”
Window and voice cut out together.
Not just Bates’ window, either. Sascha’s inset and the drone’seye sonarscape flickered and died at the same moment, stripped my
HUD bare except for in-suit feeds and a little red readout flashing
LINK DOWN. I spun but the grunt was still there, three meters off my
right shoulder. Its optical port was clearly visible, a ruby
thumbnail set into the plastron.
Its gun ports were visible too. Pointing at me.
I froze. The drone shivered in some local electromagnetic knot
as if terrified. Of me, or—
Of something behind me…
I started to turn. My helmet filled with sudden static, and with
what sounded—faintly—like a voice:
“—ucking move, Kee—not—”
“Bates? Bates?” Another icon had bloomed in place of LINK
DOWN. The grunt was using radio for some reason—and though
almost close enough to touch, I could barely make out the signal.
Peter Watts 183 Blindsight
A hash of Batespeak: “—to your—right in front of—” and
Sascha as well, a bit more clearly: “—an’t he see it?…”
“See what? Sascha! Someone tell me what—see what?”
“—read? Keeton, do you read?”
Somehow Bates had boosted the signal; static roared like an
ocean, but I could hear the words behind it. “Yes! What—”
“Keep absolutely still, do you understand? Absolutely still.
“Acknowledged.” The drone kept me in its shaky sights, dark
stereocam irises spasming wide, stuttering to pinpoints. “Wha—”
“There’s something in front of you, Keeton. Directly between
you and the grunt. Can’t you see it?”
“N-no. My HUD’s down—”
Sascha broke in: “How can he not see it it’s right th—”
Bates barked over her: “It’s man-sized, radially symmetrical,
eight, nine arms. Like tentacles, but—segmented. Spiky.”
“I don’t see anything,” I said. But I did: I saw something
reaching for me, in my pod back aboard Theseus. I saw something
curled up motionless in the ship’s spine, watching as we laid our
best plans.
I saw Michelle the synesthesiac, curled into a fetal ball: You
can’t see it…it’s in—visible…
“What’s it doing?” I called. Why can’t I see it? Why can’t I see
“Just—floating there. Kind of waving. Oh, sh—Keet—”
The grunt skidded sideways, as if slapped by a giant hand. It
bounced off the wall and suddenly the laser link was back, filling
the HUD with intelligence: first-person perspectives of Bates and
Sascha racing along alien tunnels, a grunt’s-eye view of a space suit
with Keeton stenciled across its breastplate and there, right beside
it, some thing like a rippling starfish with too many arms—
The Gang barreled around the curve and now I almost could see
something with my own eyes, flickering like heat-lightning off to
one side. It was large, and it was moving, but somehow my eyes
just slid off every time they tried to get a fix. It’s not real, I
thought, giddy with hysterical relief, it’s just another hallucination
but then Bates sailed into view and it was right there, no flickering,
Peter Watts 184 Blindsight
no uncertainty, nothing but a collapsed probability wave and solid,
undeniable mass. Exposed, it grabbed the nearest wall and
scrambled over our heads, segmented arms flailing like whips. A
sudden crackling buzz in the back of my head and it was drifting
free again, charred and smoking.
A stuttering click. The whine of machinery gearing down.
Three grunts hovered in formation in the middle of the
passageway. One faced the alien. I glimpsed the tip of some lethal
proboscis sliding back into its sheath. Bates shut the grunt down
before it had finished closing its mouth.
Optical links and three sets of lungs filled my helmet with a roar
of heavy breathing.
The offlined grunt drifted in the murky air. The alien carcass
bumped gently off the wall, twitching: a hydra of human
backbones, scorched and fleshless. It didn’t look much like my onboard visions after all.
For some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, I found that almost
The two active grunts panned the fog until Bates gave them new
orders; then one turned to secure the carcass, the other to steady its
fallen comrade. Bates grabbed the dead grunt and unplugged its
tether. “Fall back. Slowly. I’m right behind you.”
I tweaked my jets. Sascha hesitated. Coils of shielded cable
floated about us like umbilical cords.
“Now,” Bates said, plugging a feed from her own suit directly
into the offlined grunt.
Sascha started after me. Bates took up the rear. I watched my
HUD; a swarm of multiarmed monsters would appear there any
They didn’t. But the blackened thing against the belly of Bates’
machine was real enough. Not a hallucination. Not even some
understandable artefact of fear and synesthesia. Rorschach was
inhabited. Its inhabitants were invisible.
Sometimes. Sort of.
And, oh yeah. We’d just killed one.