Aquamarine

The general thrust himself into the lab, marching past the intern who had greeted him at the entrance of the building. He had two aids with him, one male one female, both of them looking like they had been manufactured somewhere, despite being perfectly human. They wore nondescript suits and were perpetually muttering things into their devices. The man himself had silver hair cropped in a military style and shoulders that spread out from his head like the wings of some bird of prey. He wore his uniform from his days as a general festooned with medals in the manner of someone you didn’t want to mess with.

Charles Gentry waited for the man and his entourage to approach from inside his clean room suit. He could hear his own breathing, feel the humidity of it as it threatened to fog the clear plastic of the helmet. The plastic was treated, so it would be fine, but there was still the feeling that condensation would form at any moment.

“Good morning, Dr. Gentry,” growled the general, all pleasantness stripped from the pleasantry, “Is there a safety issue I wasn’t informed of?”

“No, sir.” Charles studied the general’s two assistants, who were scanning the room continually but not appearing to see anything. “This isn’t a hazmat suit, it’s for the clean room. I’m in and out of there a lot today, so it’s easier just to keep it on. I just decontaminate the outside of the suit before I go in. You’ll see some of the other researchers doing the same. It’s uncomfortable, but it keeps things moving.”

The general raised his head up slightly in a half nod. The man valued efficiency, especially if it came at the expense of comfort. “Let’s be quick about this then. You say you have a prototype ready?”

It was Charles’ turn to nod. “We keep it in a sort of airlock between the wet lab and the clean room. It’s in a stable form, so you don’t need a clean suit to work with it, but both sides of the lab need access to it for experiments.” He walked, inviting the general to follow him. “ I appreciate you coming down here. Our funding is about to run out and we can’t run the risk of going through the usual channels.”

“I understand your research may prove a security risk. I’m warning you, though, this better be good, Dr. Gentry.”

“Oh it’s good alright,” Charles said as he reached the door to the antechamber. He couldn’t help but smile as he continued, “It might just mean the end to all war.”

The general’s thick eyebrows came together in a frown. “What do you mean? Is it a bomb of some sort?”

Charles realized he let out more than he had intended. He glanced at the general’s assistants. “What’s their security clearance?”

The general studied Charles for a moment, seeming to weigh the risks. He took a percussive breath. “Michaels, Chamberlin, wait here for me. I have a feeling this won’t take long.”

The two assistants rolled their eyes in tandem and stepped back as if security clearances were the bane of their existence and life would just be so much easier if they could just be allowed to follow their boss indefinitely.

“Five minutes at the most,” Charles reassured the general. “And you will be impressed; I can guarantee it.”

The general gave his half nod again and Charles yanked open the door to the antechamber, pulling against the negative pressure caused by the air being sucked out of the chamber and through the filtration system. Charles hoped the general didn’t notice. Then he realized the man probably wouldn’t realize the implications even if he did. It was too late anyway. He was in the antechamber with Charles, alone.

“It’s not a bomb,” Charles pulled open a fume hood and withdrew a vial of a dark, syrupy, aquamarine substance to show the general. He unscrewed the plastic top. “Some would call it a namcub.”

“A what shrub?”

“A self-fulfilling prophecy, an incantation that affects the minds of those who experience it.  It’s basically liquid hypnosis.” Charles could tell he wasn’t getting through, so he tried one more explanation. “With this substance, you can hack somebody’s brain.”

The general immediately seemed to lose all interest. “We already have drugs for that sort of thing. Brainwashing techniques have been around since the nineteen-fifties.”

Charles shook his head, but the movement wasn’t that visible while he was inside his suit. “No sir, not like this. Look at it. Look how clear it is, how it moves just like water.”

“Yes it is clear. It looks just like water. But that’s not the point. We’ve tried these mind drugs in the past. They don’t work.”

Charles lifted the vial. “This isn’t a drug, sir. It’s billions of synthetic organisms and nanomaterials in a nutrient bath. Smell it.”

The general brought the vial to his nose and sniffed. He scrunched his nose at the sharp scent of sulfur and alcohol that burned his nostrils.

“No odor at all, right?”

“Right,” the general agreed as if it were obvious, “The problem is even if it works, it’s still not as effective as a spy with their brain intact. Drug induced sleeper agents have a bad habit of staying asleep.”

“But, if you could get control of specific people in power, if you were smart about it, and remained hidden …”

The general laughed, took the vial and drank the contents in one gulp. “Go ahead, Son. See if you can do it. See if you can convince the president, congress, the American people, that they’ve been a bunch of idiots and they need to listen to you. See if you can change one thing for the better and not have it get corrupted, perverted and spat back into your face. Go ahead, show me how to rule the world. Because I sure as hell haven’t been able to figure it out.”

Charles took a breath as the enormity of what he was trying to do hit him. Then he let it out with slight chuckle. “I hear what you’re saying, sir. It is a difficult problem to solve. That’s why I feel education is so important.” Charles put an arm around the wide shoulders of the older man. “It’s our children who need to learn to rule the world after all. In fact, I think education is the most important issue facing our country. Don’t you agree?”

“Yes,” the general said, “I agree.”

Charles smiled and patted the man on the back before opening the door and letting him out of the antechamber. He told himself he was being responsible, making sure his technology wasn’t used by the wrong people. And maybe the government would concentrate a little more on education.

What could be wrong with that?

Charles tried his best not to answer that question.

Brains

It was potato chips. Potato crisps if you’re British I suppose. Doesn’t really matter. They were ubiquitous. They were in every household. The plague rats of the twenty-first century, and nobody suspected.

Now almost everyone is dead. Including me.

Except…Wait… I’m thinking! The plague must not have completely killed me! I blink. My vision is blurry, but it slowly begins to clear. A lady is cornered in an alley by a cadre of my fellow plague victims. Zombies. She wields a shotgun. She shoots a zombie in the chest, but of course all that does is knock it back a few feet. I suppose she didn’t watch any horror movies before the plague. Probably thought they were too gory, or a waste of time.

Typical.

She’s thin, kind of bony, and she wears dark rimmed glasses. The right lens has a crack in it. One leg of her slacks is in tatters and her blazer is ripped. She was probably a very severe looking woman before the plague. Very conservative. The kind of person you wouldn’t expect to eat potato chips. I guess that’s how she managed to survive.

It’s strange, but I think the post-apocalyptic look suits her. Her hair coming out of her bun in wild wisps, her eyes wide, I doubt if she would look as attractive all tightly put together like she must have been before.

I realize I’m shambling toward her. I try to slow myself, but I still don’t have complete control. Using all my will power I manage to raise my arm. It hurts like hell. My arm shakes. It looks like I’m reaching for her as I stumble forward.

If I can just communicate somehow, maybe I can help her. Maybe I have an immunity of some kind to the disease. I struggle to bend my elbow. To move my fingers. My joints creak with the effort. I do a slow wave. I move my dry tongue around in my mouth trying to work up some saliva. I try to talk, but my first effort comes out only as a moan. I try again, but instead of “Hey don’t kill me, I’m not like the others!” or “I’m not quite dead yet!” it comes out as “Braaiiiinsss!”

“Thanks for the tip,” the lady says, smirking and looking crazed. She re-chambers her shotgun. She apparently is taking what I said as advice on where to aim.

My eyes go wide. My lips crack in a dozen places as I mouth the word “NO,” and I try to move away as she aims the barrel of her weapon at my head and-

Human Error

Marcus stood on the catwalk looking over the trucks and airplanes as they were being loaded with vaccine. “Ladies and Gentlemen!” He called, his voice echoing from the walls of the hanger. “We are about half an hour from go time, those of you who have finished loading your transport may want to take this time to pray. Whatever you believe in, whether it’s God , the Devil, or your lucky rabbit’s foot, get them on the horn. We need all the help we can get. Good bye, and good luck.”

Marcus wiped the sweat beading on his forehead, turned around and walked toward the stairs, wanting to say more, but knowing there wasn’t more to say. Nothing more to do. It was all up to the drivers, the pilots, the guards.

“A rousing speech, Marcus.” Hamilton’s crisp, English voice sang from behind him. “May ask what you believe?”

Marcus paused at the top of the steps then continued down. “I believe in the human race, Hamilton. I have to spend all my energy just doing that. What’s going on with the air conditioning?”

Hamilton was quiet for second or so before answering. “The repair man says it will be at least another hour before he can fix it. We’ll just have to endure it, I’m afraid.”

Marcus whirled around facing the retired British officer. “I’m not asking for my comfort, damn it! If those crates of vaccine get too warm, they’ll be worthless.” When he saw the older man’s lined and weathered face, though, he calmed himself. “I don’t mean to snap at you. You’ve been a great help to us.“

Hamilton raised a hand to say he didn’t mind. “I’ll ask the man to put a rush on it as soon as we get back inside. Maybe an extra body on the problem would help speed things along.”

Marcus nodded and turned back around to continue down the stairs. Hamilton had provided the hanger for them.  Of course the Air Force probably wouldn’t have problems with the air conditioning. Of course any of the military divisions would have probably operated with much greater efficiency. But aside from the National Guard, all the military branches were preparing for an extraterrestrial onslaught that might never happen.

Marcus walked down the length of the hanger, to the door that led to the office area. He had to wait for several people to exit before he could enter. The hanger wasn’t meant for this much traffic.  One of the people leaving, a young man with a mop of blond hair, noticed Marcus, though, and stopped him. “Sir! They’ve translated some of the Glitch message!”

The news had started calling the aliens Glitches, because that was what they seemed to be at first. The Glitches had started their siege by co-opting all satellite communications with what sounded like a mix of feedback and whale calls. Then, without any warning, people started coming down with what seemed at first like a new strain of flu, only the victims started feeling pins and needles sensations, then complete numbness. They became paralyzed, locked in their bodies, unable to move as their nervous systems were systematically destroyed.

“What are they saying?” Marcus asked.

The kid shook his head, flinging a bead of sweat from his eyebrow to the floor. “They can’t tell for sure. They can only make out three words. Exist, allow, and cannot.”

Marcus nodded slowly. “Thanks, son. Get out there and help load, we’re running out of time in this heat.”

“Yes sir!”

“What do you make of that?” Hamilton asked once they were both inside.

Marcus shook his head. “I’m impressed we were able to get that much. An alien language… Heck we didn’t know it was a language until a few weeks ago. But I don’t know how those words help us.”

Hamilton frowned. “I don’t like it. ‘Allow’ and ‘exist’ should not be in a sentence together. Puts our position in a rather different perspective.” An uncomfortable moment passed as the weight of what Hamilton said settled in both men’s hearts. Hamilton coughed lightly. “I’ll talk to the maintenance man.” He rushed away at a speed that was shocking for a man his age.

Marcus walked to the first desk he came to. A young woman was just hanging up the phone, her face pale despite the temperature of the room. “Are the police giving us an escort or not?” Marcus asked.

She shook her head. “They can’t, sir.”

“What do you mean ‘they can’t?’”

She swallowed. “Sir, it’s never been this hot. The wheels of all the police cruisers…they’ve burst.”

“What?” Marcus didn’t bother waiting for an answer. He bounded to the nearest window and opened the blind. The light blinded him at first, the intense heat hitting him like an oven. When his eyes adjusted, he saw the air rippling over the tarmac, the grass yellowing and smoldering.

Marcus closed the blinds quickly. He turned around, his heart and stomach feeling like they had switched places. “Everyone,” He started, but it was too quiet. Everyone was continuing their work, unaware of how the situation had changed. Cannot allow exist, cannot allow exist….

“EVERYONE!” Marcus yelled, and this time he was heard. “Radio all drivers, loaders, and pilots. No one leaves this hanger!”

Marcus ran in the direction Hamilton had gone, dodging people and furniture until he reached the air conditioning control room. Hamilton just finished making his case when Marcus approach the man he was talking to, a small, rough looking man with a moustache and beady eyes. “Can you get us to a sewer?” Marcus asked.

The man nodded. “Great,” Marcus said, “lead as many people down there as you can and get to the city as soon as possible. The aliens have turned the heat on us.”

“Are you sure about this plan?” Hamilton asked, “Won’t the people panic?”

“Have faith, Hamilton,” Marcus said, his eyes wide as he grabbed the Hamilton’s shoulder, “Have faith.”

Goraff the Destroyer

The airport bustled with all manner of biped  from short and hairy to long, thin, and slimy. There were no quadrupeds or many legged creatures, thank Telrok, but a thin miasma of stench nonetheless assailed Goraff’s nasal ducts. Damn earthlings with their toleration of subspecies. Sometimes Goraff wished his government had eradicated them from the outset instead of setting up trade.

Goraff looked up at the gate number. Z-56.  Eighty three more gates to go. What was the use of faster than light travel if one had to walk for eighteen miles to get to it? And all the security! If Earth and the aligned worlds had just obliterated the moon based Quookle colony when they had the chance, they wouldn’t have to worry about the spine covered beasts sneaking in with someone’s luggage now.

Goraff read the time from his left tentacle. It was the hour of Kartam. 2:40 pm Earth time. He was still early, but only by 20 Earth minutes. He stepped on the treadmill boost and gripped the guide rail tightly with his tentacle. He whizzed past the bipeds buying useless trinkets and postcards from the duty free shops and he was all the happier, even with the fetid air that blasted his sensitive face skin. He would be purple by the time he reached his gate, he was sure.

He stepped off at the end of the tread mill onto the decelerator which slowed him to walking pace. He looked up at the gate number. Z-130. Almost there.

An announcement issued from a ceiling intercom in English: “Galactic Flight 34268 to Pamff has been delayed due to foam liberated from the craft on reentry. Please contact the nearest Galactic terminal to reschedule your flight.”

Goraff cursed in his mother tongue. At this rate he’d never make it to his womb-mate’s wedding in time.

Dark Hole

I have put my hand into a dark hole.

Something furry lurks there. I know this. I have felt the texture of it brush against my skin.

How long will it take, I wonder, for the denizen of the hovel I have invaded to take vengeance? What sort of fang will press into my bare skin? The fangs of some predator? No, that is unlikely, I realize. More likely the creature is a rodent. When it bites and I am sure now that it will, it will bite hard. It will gnaw into the bones of my hand voraciously, and maybe not out of any particular malice, maybe it will rip into my flesh simply to quell some pain it feels from incisors that will not stop growing.

My fingers flounder in the soil, searching. My eyes are closed so I can better concentrate on my other senses. Hoping, yearning for the feel of something cold and metallic. Still, the heat of the sun at my back distracts me. Even with my eyes clenched tightly, the sweat that drips into them burns.

I think now of what disease the creature might have. What bacteria or virus has it contracted in the catacombs? Maybe it has lived with some dark passenger all its life, having developed an immunity from years of cohabitation. Maybe, after it sinks its teeth into my flesh nothing will happen until a month from now, or maybe even a year, when suddenly I develop a fever, a cough, and then blood issues from my mouth. Or perhaps rabies will eat at my brain, dormant until a cold night weakens my immune system. I feel the furry devil again and jerk my hand out. Yelping in fear and surprise.

I examine at my hand. Everything is there, unviolated. I pant for several minutes, the humid air suffocating me.

I stick my hand back in, hesitantly at first. But I must go deeper. Sucking in a breath I lunge forward, and this time, I can feel them.

My keys.

Thank god.