Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
There it is! In between the static.
It’s faint at first, buried deep in the hiss, but after you hear it, after you know it’s there it becomes so loud you want to cover your ears and scream. I can sound the words out for you, but that’s it. We never got the romanization down. It sounds like:
Ip thoc ko ial preg iad tow dez vago tet.
There are images in the snow. Ones beyond the bisected face and blank eyes that see in dimensions our scientists can only dream about. In the static, I’ve seen across the universe. Spindly stick figures with no noticeable head and arms that bow out, reach almost to their pointed feet. Diamond storms that rip the skin off ugly dogthings scavenging in a pure white desert. I’ve seen former colleagues from the mountain. I wonder if they were taken or given.
Mull and Eggers dying slow asphyxiated deaths on the barely air of some blank and purple alien planet. Lots of experiments. Jun, Bledsoe, Schwartz, Candlowe, Ronni, others. Vivisection, of course, hours of it. No anesthetic, but they don’t die or pass out. Dying is for later. Dying is for the bio-weapon testing using diseases we shouldn’t have had to worry about encountering for centuries. Candlowe was ripped apart by mold. Just a few airborne spores and in days it was growing everywhere. Skin bulged, eyes bulged, couldn’t close his mouth because it grew on his tongue. Then, he just burst. Blossomed into a bloody hill of deeply grooved fungi.
Gases, artificial gravity, abrasion tests, brain surgeries, amputations, organ transplants with strange creatures as donors. Unit 731 stuff. Hours of experiments in the static. Hours in minutes. They have this way of. . .folding information. Like a note folded into a tight square, but you can still read every inch of it.
They bring the static with them. Radio and television. They don’t have to, they do it on purpose. It’s stimulus. I hear the hiss and start to cry. In the beginning, I used to lock-down the house. I bought every kind of lock and bolt and chain I could. Put them on the windows and door. A few times, I boarded everything up, used my furniture to barricade any entry point. It’s useless. Their fingers, they get through. They flatten, stretch and slip through the cracks. Long, thin worms that wrap around whatever’s keeping them out. Sometimes, they make me watch. Sometimes, my cabin fills with burning light. When it fades I’ve lost time and there they are. Watching me.
Eventually I stopped. No more locks, no barricades. I just sit and wait. But not tonight. Tonight, I’m making them work for it. When the static screams and the voice comes on, I don’t think, just run to the door and slip outside. Finally wiping the tears from my eyes, I look up. Jesus, there’s so many of them. They don’t look like they should fly. It’s all weird angles and counter-intuitive design. In space, it doesn’t matter, I guess. Here, though, they should be falling out of the sky. Back at the mountain, we could use the internal tech, but the design was too radical. People would get suspicious, things would change. Completely silent, they hover just barely visible against the gloam. I head for the woods.
They’ve been here for a long time. We’ve gotten some things from them. Technology, mostly, obviously, but it’s like beads for Manhattan. We always knew. We always knew that we weren’t in the driver’s seat. Always knew how it would end. You’ve seen the things they can do, even if you don’t realize it. They can level buildings like they’re made of balsa wood. They slip in between, I don’t know what to call it. . .dimensions? Realities? They go and they rip the tiniest piece apart and on our side the whole thing comes down. They can do it to whole cities.
August 9th, 1945. That wasn’t a bomb. That was simple mimicry.
The last light of dusk is almost gone. I didn’t bring a flashlight, I thought it would draw too much attention to me. Now, I’m just barely trotting, groping in front of me with one hand and keeping the other on the nearest tree trunk. This was stupid, they’re going to catch me. I’m just drawing it out. They found me here after I left the mountain. The other side of the country, in the middle of nowhere. It was a message: I’m not going to tell anybody. Didn’t matter. I look back and watch the edge of the forest. My heart beats so loud they could probably find me just by following the thumps. A tall pillar of bug zapper blue light flicks on where my cabin is. It moves so slowly it takes me awhile to even realize it’s gotten closer. I turn and run.
Crashing and flailing, kicking leaves and snapping branches. There’s no where to go. My foot drops into a hole. Crazed rabbit panic fills me and I wrench my leg around to see what kind of trap from beyond the stars I’m caught in. It’s just a god damn hole made by some dumb animal. Pain shoots up my calves. I gingerly take my twisted ankle out of the hole and limp forward. Time to give up. What a stupid idea. I could gimp my way into the darkness, maybe try to cover myself with leaves, but that’s just entertainment for them. A funny note in their catalog of human behavior. I ease myself down against a tree and just watch the light. When the light hits them the tree trunks bend outward like they’re elastic. They’re bigger than we can see. They exist in every direction.
Closer. I can almost make out the figure inside of the light. I think I’m crying, but my senses are unraveling in its presence. It is the only thing I’m really aware of it. Closer. I can see the outline of the thick V-shaped head that juts back half a foot in fat tumor-like buboes. At the apex of each slant is its fleshed over eyes. Wide indents and long brows holding in small lakes of a thin membrane. There’s an eye similar to ours underneath the skin. I know. I’ve done autopsies. They just don’t need it any more.
It’s talking to me. Cooing sing-song layered words packed with image and smell and sound. Destruction, charred flesh, crying babies, the static deafening, holocaust fast and slow, some die in flames, in quakes of reality, in molecular disease while others die in camps, farms, zoos and labs. There are holes in the sky. Out of them come exterminating angels, servants of a distant and inconceivable Lord.
Nobody does anything. Nobody tries to stop them.
It’s above me. I think I hear my sobs over the words. It raises its six-fingered hand and the digits slither forward. Two of them, vaguely warm with life, glide over my face, up my cheeks. They flatten and slowly go over my eyelid, under the ball and back, back, coiling around the optic nerve. Two more up each nostril. The fingers divide, sending tributaries into my sinuses and down into my lungs. They atomize, passes through membrane and cell walls to get to my nervous system and brain. I’m being absorbed, translated into something intangible that they can send through the air to the ships above.
They don’t have to do this. There are other ways.
I wake up on the floor of the white room. I hoped it wouldn’t be this. Prayed. It wasn’t always, but for the past few months it mostly was. There’s Ronni Statler, cradled in her chair made from a kind of rubbery satin. She was one of the few women at the mountain. Not pretty, but pretty enough. And funny. If we had gotten together before I would have been a lucky man.
They’ve already put the suit on me. Like a second skin, it keeps all my dander and oils in. You wouldn’t know I was wearing it unless I touched you and you felt the thin plastic dermis. I get up. The suit tightens and loosens where needed as I move. I’ve gotten as used to her as I can be expected to. Visions of her still float up to my brain and I have to push them out anyway I can, but when I’m with her I can deal with it. I gently touch her arm.
“Whhh.” There’s muffled snorting and sucking sounds from inside her. The upper row of teeth at what used to be the back of her head jostles a bit and the tongue that hangs down under the lower set squirms against the base of her skull. She tries to turn her useless and hidden eyes to me.
“It’s just me Ronni.” She raises a shaking hand and I softly take it. It hurts her, I think, even this limp touch. I want them to take me back soon, but I want them to let me stay here with them forever. I watch her blood flow. It was perfect, not a drip or seep as it ran along the outside of her veins to her heart, thick with red muscle, nestled between her lungs, rocking softly with each pump. My eyes trace the veins and arteries that make her exposed body into a road map. The quiet biological noise of her organs and her strangled breathing are the only sounds in the white cell. I still don’t understand how she breathes.
I sit down on the floor near her leg and with the greatest care I rest my cheek again the pale tissue and muscle of her thigh. In a stuttering shift, my eyes finally focus on the light yellow sphere piled on her belly. In the sea of liquor amnii, against the bruise purple backdrop of placenta, my eyes lock on the button black eyes of our fetal daughter. Does Ronni even know? They turned her inside out right after fertilization. She must have figured out why they were forcing us to be together.
It would be easy to just reach in. Break the water and take her tiny unformed body in my hands and throw her against the wall, grind her beneath my heel, rip her in two. Just as easily, I could grab Ronni’s heart and mangle it into uselessness. Even easier, when I get back home I can cut my throat or blow a hole through my brain or hang myself from the tallest tree. But I don’t. I love Ronni, even though at first she cried, struggled and looked at me with such hate. After awhile, she softened. Or maybe the whole ordeal just burned all of the care out of her.
And I love our daughter. I love her even though there’s a wide furrow running through the center of her head and it’s getting deep and narrow.
I don’t know how long they let me stay, but it’s not long enough. I wake up in my cabin, disgusted and afraid. It all feels different down here. Down here, the worst is still coming. Coming on such a definite track it might as well have already happened. More than my tortured colleagues, that’s what they show me in the static.
When I look hard in between the shifting black and white points, past the V-shaped face, past the experiments, I see Earth. I see every television and radio blaring static like an air raid siren. A billion fathers cursing and flicking through channel after channel of snow. The only warning they get.
And it will come soon.
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