Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Mad Muggle's Secret*

Martin laid his newspaper down, draped his coat over the back of his chair, and sat down.  His guest, a reporter, was already in his battered little office, sitting in the better of the two guest chairs that crowded the space.

She was blonde and tall, though he couldn’t be certain just how tall.  She sat at least as tall as he did himself.  He had been expecting her, but before his afternoon break rather than after it.  Like so many magical folk, the woman’s timekeeping was apparently only approximate.  Her name, as he recalled, was Denise Prewett.

She was very attractive.  Martin found himself wondering, vaguely, just how much of that beauty was natural.

He settled himself.  “So, here we are.  You made the appointment, and we’re already a little behind.  Let’s get started.”

The reporter whipped out a quill and notebook.  Martin noticed that the notebook was just as mundane as he was: wirebound, thin blue lines on white paper.  Not a scroll of parchment or a self-turning book.  The quill, however, flourished itself self-importantly and hovered expectantly at the first line of the blank page.

“Right then, Mr. Miggs.  Let’s go with the very first detail.  Why do they call you the ‘Mad Muggle?’”  It doesn’t sound very charitable, does it?”

“Sound charitable?  I guess not.  But who’s looking for charity?  I think some of the ‘mad’ bit comes from me being a muggle interacting so much with wizarding folk.  The rest of it comes from the old prejudice of wizards against muggles.  Magic types just discard so much of muggle behavior as mad since it isn’t what they would do themselves.  But having no magic of our own, we muggles have to live our lives a bit differently, don’t we?  It’s not mad to be different.  It’s just different.”  Martin, having begun to relax, put his feet up on his desk.  He angled them off to the side, so as not to be putting his feet toward his guest.  He had no other appointments for the rest of the afternoon, unfortunate as that may be, and the young lady was likely to be an entertaining diversion.

“So do you take offense at the title?”  She leaned forward, avid.  The quill quivered on the paper.

Martin mulled for a moment.  “Hmm.  Well…I suppose I did, at first.  As you say it isn’t a charitable thing to call someone.  But eventually it sort of lost its power, didn’t it?  They call you something long enough and it stops being a commentary.  It sort of becomes your name.”  He twiddled a pencil in his fingers, thick fingers with short nails.  “It comes out of ignorance, I think.  If a wizard had to live like a muggle for a few days, he’d stop calling the things muggles do ‘mad.’  He’d have no choice but to do the same things, live the same way, wouldn’t he?  It’s that or starve, or die of frostbite, or wear mismatched socks, or any of a hundred things wizards don’t even think of because they’ve never had to.”

Prewett sat up straight again.  She was very pretty, and she had the most adorable little crinkle in her brow as she considered her next question.

“Mr. Miggs, it sounds almost as if you think it’s better to be a muggle than a wizard.”

Martin sat very still.


“Well, what?  You haven’t asked a question yet.”

Do you think it’s better to be a muggle than a wizard?”

“Do I think it’s better?  No.  And I don’t think it’s better to be a wizard, either.  I think, knowing as many wizards and witches as I do, knowing muggle life as I do, that I wouldn’t trade one for the other.  They each have their advantages, don’t they?”

“We all know what the advantages of wizard life are, well enough.”

“No, I’m not sure ‘we all’ do.  Let’s think about this.”  He reached up and twisted the knob on the lamp on his desk, and it instantly blinked on.  “There’s an example for you, right there.”

“What?  I can do that.  Lumos,” she added to her wand as she drew it forth.   “There’s light.  It’s easy.”  The wand tip ignited with a pale silvery light.

Martin got up from the chair and reached over the reporter’s head to flip a light switch by the door.  Startled slightly by the sudden brilliance, Prewett blinked.  Her wand went out.  “I know how bright wands can be.  The brightest wand I ever saw was barely equal to this lamp.  And even though I can’t take the lamp with me, I don’t have to think about it.  You have to keep concentrating on the wand, just a little bit, to keep the spell going.  I don’t.  The lights are on and stay on until I turn them off.”

Prewett looked up at the light fixture.  It was an ugly, rectangular thing full of a cold bluish light.  It hummed slightly.  “It’s not a pretty light.”

“Neither is wand light.  Wand light is the same color as moonlight.”

“But moonlight is beautiful!”

“Sure it is…when it’s coming from the moon.  But when it’s just a weak glimmer coming from a wand, it’s not.  And I’ve never seen anyone produce a different color of light from his wand unless he was casting a spell.  If I want, I can change the light bulbs to give a different light from the fixture.  I could make this fixture give any color I want.”

“Why have this color, then?”

“This is the most popular color they make.”

Prewett shook her head in a muggles are mad kind of way, her captivating blonde waves swaying hypnotically.

“But that’s a pretty mundane example.  I can have more light at my disposal just by flipping a switch than you can, but I can’t carry it around like you can, but I can change the color, but that takes a while…you see my point?  There’s a give and take of advantages and disadvantages.  It’s not obvious which way is more convenient.”

“But I can light all the lamps I want with my wand.”

“Yes, you can.  The same way I can just by flipping the switch.”

“I can light fires.”


Prewett frowned, a delightful moue of amused displeasure.

“Wizards don’t get sick like muggles do.”

“No, you don’t, do you?  I’ve never heard of a wizard getting the flu, or coming down with so much as a common cold.  No, you don’t get sick like muggles do at all.”  Prewett started to pull on a face of triumph, which came to an abrupt halt as Martin continued, “No…you get sick like wizards.”


“Spattergroit.  Loser’s Lurgy.  Any number of illnesses and infirmities that are completely unknown to muggles.  We don’t have enough magic in us to support those illnesses, so we don’t get them at all.  But last year nearly twenty people died from spattergroit, didn’t they?  That fatality rate is much higher than muggles experience for flu. It’s a shame there isn’t a vaccine against it.  If muggles didn’t have the vaccine for flu, the fatality rate might equal that of spattergroit.  As it is, it’s not that bad.
“I have a few theories about how muggles and wizards differ, biologically speaking.  Let me just throw these out there, and you can pick them apart if you like.  Ready?

“Wizards and muggles are both human beings.  But I suspect that they are not the same kind of human being.”

“Whoa…wow!  That’s an awfully big thing to say, are you suggesting…?”

“Please let me finish.  I say not the same kind of human being, but maybe I’m being a bit glib.  How familiar are you with genetics?”

“Not at all.  Is that some kind of biting bug?  I hate ticks.”

“No, no.  Genetics is just a broad term that addresses how living things become what they are.  ‘Genetics’ refers to genes, individual instructions in a living thing that make it unique in certain ways, and like its relatives in certain ways.  And genetic variation can describe how those similarities can shift and change and be different from one generation to another.”


“Like a recipe.  Change the recipe a little bit this way or that, and the dish comes out different.  Change one thing just a little bit and no one will notice; change every item just a little bit and you might have a completely different dish, right?”


“Well, in the genetics of humans, the recipe is thousands and thousands of pages long, and there are almost countless ways to make it different.  Most of the details are both tiny and very important, so they don’t ever get changed.  Details about how livers work, and about keeping the skin growing on the outside of the body, stuff that you don’t even think about.  But then there are lots of details that are optional, like hair color, and eye color, and whether you have a flair for music.”

“Oh?  And like, oh, left-handedness?”

“Yes!  Good example.  Some of the details, optional though they are, have pretty big functional effects.  Left-handedness is one of those.  And, I think, magic ability.”


“Think about that.  In the muggle world, about one person out of every seven is likely to be left handed.  Out of all people, maybe one in a thousand is magical.  And magic ability tends to run in families.  But the same way you can have an entirely right-handed family suddenly produce a left-handed baby, you can have a nonmagical family produce a magical child.  I think it’s a gene, a very uncommon gene.  And it goes the other way: magical families can produce nonmagical children.”


“That’s not a very nice word, is it?  It carries such unpleasant connotations.”

“Well, it’s what they are.”

“No, it’s a name applied to them.  They’re the left-handed baby from the right-handed family.  The odds are against them ever happening in the first place, but that doesn’t make them impossible or wrong.  What they are is human, just like you and me.  There are many names people call each other, and they’re almost always unkind names.  The kinds of names people apply to those who aren’t like themselves.  It’s a way of setting themselves apart from what they don’t fully understand.  By setting it apart from themselves, they give themselves permission to disregard it.  If it isn’t like you, it must not be as important as you, equal to you.  And that’s a terrible place to be.”

Prewett was still watching Martin intently as her quill raced back and forth over the notebook.  Suddenly it stopped and poked her sharply at the base of her thumb.  She jumped, looked down, and turned the page.  The quill resumed its recording.

“So do you think that squibs, then, are equal to both wizards and muggles?  You seem to carry an extremely egalitarian view, Mr. Miggs.”

“Equal?  Absolutely.  If wizards are no more or less than muggles, then I’d say the same for non-magical folk from magic families.  Even ‘squibs’” – and he sketched quotes in the air with his fingers – “have advantages that full wizards don’t enjoy.  Haven’t you noticed their affinity with animals?  When was the last time you saw even a full wizard with the kind of rapport with any creature that a squib has?  If you need to get a recalcitrant animal to behave, ask a squib to do it.”

Martin stopped talking for a moment, listening to the thin scratching of the quill.  It was very true, the bit about animals and squibs.  He’d had a cat once that patently ignored him unless it was meal time, and his mother had talked about her birds and a horse she’d known as a child, all very nice but not especially engaging.  Then he’d met the slightly odd but entertaining little lady down the road who didn’t like to admit she was a squib, but she practically had cats lining up in parades, bringing the newspaper, parting before her as she walked and never tripping her up.  It was almost eerie to see that the first time.  Since then, he’d noticed that every squib he ever met had at least a couple of pets, and those pets were invariably extremely responsive to their masters, much more responsive than any muggle pet or even a wizard’s owl.  He’d also noticed that the squibs didn’t appear to notice their strange influence over their animal companions.

Martin watched the girl across the desk a bit more carefully.  She seemed to be, if anything, even more beautiful now than when he had first met her.  Her hair shimmered with a luster like hot gold, her skin was smooth and clear and supple.  She inhaled and he almost felt his heart skip a beat.

Martin leapt up from his seat.  “Excuse me a moment, won’t you?  I need water.”

He fairly jogged down the corridor to the water fountain, filled a paper cup and paused long enough to drink it all down, wet a couple of fingers and rub them vigorously across his forehead.

He refilled the cup and brought it with him back to the office.  He sat down and opened a drawer in the desk and drew out a ruler.  Prewett watched him disinterestedly.

As she leaned forward to ask him her next question, he could see it as it happened.  Her eyes became larger, and fairly glowed with a mesmerizing light as her hair appeared to lengthen and thicken, and her blouse seemed to become a little too small.

There was a loud SLAP as Martin brought the ruler down flat, hard on the surface of the desk.
Prewett snapped back in her chair as her appearance abruptly changed.  Her face became a little longer and sharper, her hair seemed to suck back into her head a few inches, and her eyes stopped glowing.

“What was – Mr. Miggs, what was that for?”

He shook the ruler at her.  “Ms. Prewett, you will kindly cease and desist your infatuation charm right now.  We are conversing just fine without any kind of coercive or leading efforts on your part, yes?”

Prewett had the decency to look abashed.  “I beg your pardon, Mr. Miggs.  It’s something of a habit I use when interviewing muggles.  When they think I’m very pretty, they tend to be easier to handle.”

“There will be no handling of any sort, thank you.  I don’t need handling.  We can talk as equal adults, or you may leave, or I shall escort you out.”

Prewett looked a tiny bit doubtful.  “Mr. Miggs, do you really think that if I don’t want to leave…”

“If I want you to leave, you will leave.  It’s important that you understand this.  Wizarding folk have the most ridiculous assumption, to think their magic gives them an automatic command of any situation.  If I want you gone, you will go.  Don’t test this.  It won’t be pleasant.”

The scratching quill was writing at a furious pace, and stopped again to jab in apparent frustration for a new page, which Prewett again provided.  As she turned the page, he could see her watching him with newfound respect, and maybe the tiniest trace of, what was that?  Could it be fear?


“I’m the ‘Mad Muggle’ because I interact with wizarding folk on an equal footing.  If you’ve read any of the comic books that purport to be about me, then you’ve noticed that I don’t often fail.  Yes, I find myself in some devilish tricky situations, but I make it through okay.”

“And how do you do that, exactly?”

“Ms. Prewett, I’m a muggle interacting with wizards.  The wizards have the capacity to bring tremendous power against me if I give them the chance.  It is imperative that I not let them have that chance.  I prefer not to give away too many secrets, lest I yield my tactical edge to someone who has a grudge against me.  So you’ll forgive me if I choose not to answer that question.”

Martin watched Prewett sift through that statement.  He’d come close to the crucial point – that magic required a constant dedication of concentration and intent to work, that a distracted and startled wizard could be shocked into powerlessness.  He’d even demonstrated as much with his ruler on the desk, though Prewett had apparently failed to pick up on the significance of his breaking her spell.

He had a greater secret that he didn’t dare let her even guess.  It could rattle the underpinnings of the entire magical world, and so even he, a muggle himself, didn’t delve too deeply into it.  Muggle though he was, his belief and confidence in the existence of magic made it very real for him.  It could affect him as fully as any wizard or witch, heal him just as strongly or kill him just as dead.

But based on what research he had been able to conduct, Martin had become increasingly sure that due to their complete ignorance of magic and resolute disbelief of its reality, muggles were almost completely immune to it.  Certainly muggles were affected by the world around them and magic could have effects on the environment, but by and large muggles could not be affected by magic directly.  There were exceptions of course – extremely powerful wizards, muggles whose disbelief was shaky, combined efforts could all overpower the skepticism of the most mundane mind.  But even more rattling than this was that the wizard’s own confidence in magic could be shaken.  And once shaken, it could be entirely undone.  A wizard could be turned into a muggle.  Not even a squib with their convenient rapport with the neighborhood pets, but just another person.  And even worse than a muggle, a mundaned wizard, one who knew of the reality, but no longer trusted what he knew.

So Martin kept certain facts to himself.  Some arguments he deliberately lost, some cases he let slip through his fingers.  Certainly he could clear them if he wanted – magic or no, wizards were people after all.  And people, even He Who Must Not Be Named – now very thoroughly dead – made mistakes.  That was why he was dead.  Mistakes. 

Martin didn’t insist that he was completely rational, that he was doing everything the way it ought to be done.  To tell everything he knew would shake up everyone, and as things stood the world kept spinning comfortably along, wizards in their own world and muggles in theirs.  It would gain him nothing to upset that order.

Better to be imagined mad.

*NOTE: The character "Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle" is the intellectual property of J.K. Rowling, as is the magical world** as depicted in the Harry Potter series of stories by J.K. Rowling.

**He Who Must Not Be Named, however, is pretty vague and could be anyone.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Strange Fellows, Part 3

"Sergeant, go in there and drag whoever the hell is in there out here."

"Sir, intel says at least one of those guys is a retired SEAL, I'd rather not drag him."

"Ask him nicely.  Drag anyone else."

"Yessir, Colonel."  The sergeant snapped off a salute and jogged briskly away.  A few moments later the Colonel heard the man rapping smartly on the door and announcing himself.  Smart.  Banging the door down might be fatal.  Too many armed personnel around here and nobody knows the entire show.  The sergeant went in, and after a couple of minutes three unfamiliar men came outside, followed by the sergeant.  The sergeant gave the colonel a subtle head nod to indicate the building was empty.

"Sir, this is everyone that was in there.  They had a pretty straightforward surveillance setup that crapped out when we cut the power to the island.  It didn't shut down their central system but we did take out their cellular repeaters and monitoring hardware.  I think we're secure."

Jim spoke up.  "Okay, who the hell are you?  Army, obviously.  What are you here for?"  He massaged his wrists; the sergeant had untied him so he could walk freely.

"Name's Colonel Carnegie.  Distant relation to the Carnegie.  Not a close enough relation to use as a job reference but never mind that.  US Army Special Forces First Group, First Battalion out of Okinawa.  We're cooperating with operatives from Fifth Group and the Twentieth.  Don't worry about that either.  Green Berets.  You don't know what you dragged over here from the Pacific, do you?"  That last was directed at Ted.

"Dragged?  We weren't trolling.  The vessel isn't outfitted for towing anything."

"Brand-new vessel, right?  Big diesel driving generators, electric drive pods?"

"...yeah?  How'd you know that?"

"Did you see the thing on the cameras when your big monkey ran away?"

"Speaking of..."

"Don't worry about him, we have eyes on him.  He's calming down.  Did you see what scared him?"

"Sort of.  It looked like something out of a Japanese rubber monster movie."

"It was. That was Godzilla."

"The movie?  Yeah."

"No, I mean what you saw.  Godzilla.  Or to give him his proper name, Gojira."

Ted shook his head.  This conversation had taken a weird turn.  "What?"

"Those movies were documentaries.  Well, the first one was.  And a few little bits from some of the other movies too."

"Colonel, I know King Kong was based on some crackpot's notes from an ill-advised trip to the tropics and the rest was top-notch Hollywood BS, but you can't tell me that Godzilla was a documentary.  It even looks like a guy in a rubber suit."

"Here and there in the movie there are some frames where it doesn't like much like a guy in a rubber suit.  Tokyo never got hammered but how many people can recognize one Japanese city from another?  Shoot, not even many native Japanese can unless they see something distinctive on-screen, and Tokyo just doesn't have that many big iconic landmarks.  Not like New York or Paris.  It's just a big city.  So when Godzilla smashed the crap out of Hiroshima it was conveniently just a few years after the bomb and they were still rebuilding.  Not much footage of him was caught but a little got out.  They made a movie around the rumor that was going around and made him into a cultural icon."

Ted's commanding officer, the lieutenant commander, had had enough.  "Say what?  Sorry, sir, what?  You want me to believe it's real?"

"You saw it.  It's real."

"I saw something.  I'm not sure exactly what."

"You saw something that frightened the biggest animal you've ever encountered in your life, didn't you wonder what could possibly do that?  Where he's from Kong is at the top of a large and violent heap, what do you think could make him jump and rabbit like that?  Something completely off the charts, that's what."


"Godzilla.  Or Gojira if you prefer."

The lieutenant commander shook his head and stepped back a bit, turning away a little.  He looked as if he was hoping someone would pop up from nowhere and take the responsibilities he currently faced out of his hands, because things had suddenly become both bizarre and far more enormous than he had imagined.

Carnegie noticed that the other man was standing quietly, arms folded but one finger raised.  He recognized the man from his dossier, the retired SEAL.  An interesting read, that.  "Yes, Chief?"

"Sir, you mentioned the vessel's propulsion system. How is that relevant?"

"Godzilla is attracted to electricity.  It's part of why so many storms are so damaging to Japan, if it's an electrically active storm, lots of lightning, he might come ashore.  It's been decades but it happens.  Then they try to quarantine all the footage it generates and make another movie to explain it away.  Pretty clever actually, you build a modern mythology around the truth and you can convince people what they saw was actually fake, instead of the other way around.  Funny.  Anyway the drive pods on some of these newer ships attract him like a bear to honey."


"Hell if I know.  He's a reptile the size of the Statue of Liberty, whatever his motivations are they're known only to him.  Maybe he just likes it.  All we know is he follows them around."

"This is surreal."

"You want to know what's surreal?  Being read into this by a higher-up without having met the giant monkey first to soften the blow.  It's like having Hagrid bang down the door outta nowhere and tell you you're a wizard."

Ted's composure was rattled by this.  "You're not saying..."

"What?  Hell, no.  Don't be ridiculous.  Yer a lizard, Gojiry.  That's as weird as it gets.  Weird enough."

"Why is it always Japan?"

"Don't know that either.  His visits are so infrequent that nobody's really put together a good behavioral profile on him.  He never gets too far from water, he's strangely attracted to electricity, he eats way less than you'd think, and he's old.  That's what we know for sure, and that ain't much."

"Okay.  We have a valid reason for wanting the ape.  How do we get Godzilla back to where he belongs?"

"First I think you're going to need to call the boat back.  There's nothing else quite like it anywhere near here, so you'd do best to call it back.  Its pods might attract big G again and maybe you can lead him by the nose back to his own turf."

"That's outside my mission profile."

"Chief, your mission profile is, pardon my French, shit.  Kong is nothing new to us either.  Bringing him off his island is a disaster looking for a place to happen.  We've studied him in situ for a few decades but really his immunological profile isn't much use.  His genes are too old.  They wouldn't even be helpful to modern mountain gorillas."


"No.  And unfortunately the knowledge of him is so tightly compartmentalized that it isn't fully known exactly who within the government knows about him, and whether those parties are aware of each other's cognizance."

"That's pretty inefficient."

"Tell me about it.  This has been a clown factory since the Thirties.  Well, we're here now.  And between Kong and big G being in the same place, I think we're screwed good and proper.  I'm not sure if this can be resolved cleanly."

"Are you saying we should box Kong back up and take him back to his island?"

"Yes, I am."

"That island could collapse at any time."

"That's too bad.  I'd rather the poor bastard die there than spend five minutes wandering around here.  That would be a disaster like no other.  Unless the two of them throw down and start fighting.  God almighty."

"Wait a minute, didn't Kong and Godzilla meet once in the past?  They made a movie about that."

"That was just a movie.  Most of the movies were just movies.  Kong is big but big G is just gigantic.  He's like a pissed-off building once he gets going, and not a little building either.  He's like a medium-high skyscraper in midtown.  Fortunately he's usually pretty peaceful.  I'm not sure he could be killed by anything short of a pinpoint nuclear attack, and that has never been tested."

"Peaceful?  He keeps smashing Tokyo!"

"Nope, never Tokyo.  He's only blundered around two Japanese cities.  It looks scary as hell but really all he does is wander around, get tangled in big power cables, get zapped and wander back off.  It's not as bad as they've made him look, but it's bad enough.  He isn't careful where he steps.  The death toll is pretty bad but not what you would expect, it's kind of surprising really.  Dozens, not hundreds.  That's bad enough but not what you would expect, not from watching the movies."

"So those other monsters aren't real? The ones in the other movies?"

"Two were.  Pretty bad stuff.  We won't go into that right now.  Call the boat back."

"We're going to need our system back up."

"Sergeant, see to it."  The sergeant snapped off another salute and trotted away, Ted jogging behind him.  "Well, LC.  How are you holding up?"

"It's like discovering a new primary color, sir."

"Ha.  Yeah, it is, a little."  He held a finger to his ear.  "Getting a report coming in."

He looked around at a small sound.  Far off he could see one of the small screaming monkeys, pink instead of the brown ones like he was used to at home.  It advanced slowly and when it noticed him watching, it stopped.  It stayed very still.  He snorted at it and it continued to hold still.  He barked at it, almost idly, and it withdrew a few steps.  Good.  He wanted the little creature to keep its distance, but his curiosity was getting the better of him.  The pink screamers were a little familiar.

At home the screamer monkeys were brown.  Sometimes they made a huge amount of noise and left one of their little females on a kind of tree for him to look at.  He would take the little female away and play with her.  They almost always died after a couple of days, but there had been some memorable ones.  He played with them carefully, they were so small he could tell they were fragile, as fragile is babies, but sometimes it seemed that they just fell asleep and didn't wake up.  A few had run away and been eaten by something nastier than himself - one had run right into the lake monster's lake, one of the few times he had dared to enter the lake himself but by the time he got there it was much too late - and one had been pink like these.  She had been very strange, a screamer like the others but before too long she had gone quiet.  She had stopped screaming.

That had made him sad at first, the little screamer going quiet.  They usually died not long after that.  But this one had not died.  She had begun to watch him the way he watched her, and for a while it seemed the two of them were amusing each other.  That had been fun.

She had stayed a couple of days and unlike the others, did not die.  She got away.  He looked all over the island for her and never saw her again, nor any trace of what might have eaten her.  She must have gotten away.  As sad as he would have been over her death, he was a different kind of sad that he hadn't had to endure that, but she was gone nonetheless.

Now, in this strange flat place with the short trees and the Not Lake Monster that was so much more than the lake monster, there were pink screamers.  And they didn't scream either.  Curious.

He got up and ambled, carefully, toward the quiet pink in the distance.  It took several steps backward and he stopped immediately.

He didn't look directly at it.  He had known better, in his youth, than to look directly at things he didn't want to challenge.  His uncle's fangs still gleamed huge in his memory when he had made the mistake of approaching him directly, staring him in the eye.  That encounter had ended in a scar that he still carried.  Uncle was gone so long he couldn't even remember where his bones lay, but the scar and the memory remained.

Looking off to one side, progressing carefully in steps and pauses, taking breaks to eat some leaves and taste the shrubby brush, he closed the distance.  The pink screamer continued to withdraw, but still he drew nearer.

Finally he was only a couple of body lengths away from the pink screamer.  It had stopped backing away but it was very wary.  It was almost in the trees while he was still on the beach.  He watched it.

Yes.  Pink.  But he could only see its hands and its head.  Its hands and face were pink but its body was covered with something like the strange coverings the brown screamers had.  Similar but different.  Not important.  It was pink.  Also not important.  It was a screamer, that was important.  Screamers could be dangerous.

It put its hand to its head from time to time.  That was weird but maybe it was eating? No, it was touching its ear.  Maybe it had flies.

Its other hand held a stick he recognized.  A stick like that had somehow stung him many years ago.  That had hurt, the stick had stung him over and over. The stick was dangerous.  He glared at it and barked, and the pink screamer scratched its ear again and withdrew into the trees.

"Okay, Godzilla has gone into the water and Kong has calmed down a bit.  We have a man watching him and Kong has approached, and he's trying to keep his distance but Kong keeps getting closer.  Anyone have any suggestions?"

"Well, if we crowd him I think Kong is going to feel threatened, so that might be a bad idea."

"He could feel threatened by us?"

"Yeah.  You fear what you don't understand.  And what you do understand, if you know it's dangerous, you fear that too.  Kong's experience of humans is pretty skimpy so he doesn't know quite what to make of us, but his experience isn't zero.  And it isn't all good."

"You said there was a failed expedition in the Thirties?  How did that work out?"

"Not great.  Several casualties, mostly environmental but there were also hostilities between the ape and the personnel.  He may remember humans as dangerous."

"If he thinks humans are dangerous will he try to stay clear of them?"

"Maybe.  If it's a small enough group of humans he may just try to kill them to eliminate the threat."

"Can he make plans like that?"

"Oh, yeah.  It ain't exactly a cost-benefit analysis but Kong is shrewd.  He plays the long game.  His goal is maximum relaxation for minimum effort, and he's willing to invest efforts heavily up front if he thinks it will pay off later.  Generally he leaves things alone but the more aggressive threats he engages proactively, either to make them very respectful of his personal space or else to kill them outright and eliminate them.  Anything that gives him a wide berth, he just leaves alone.  If it crosses his path with blood in its eye, however, he steps right up.  Kong's shit threshold is level with the floor, he is perfectly willing to take on a fight if he thinks it's in his best interest.  And he is always looking out for his best interest."

"And what is his best interest?"

"Mostly Kong just wants to be left alone.  There aren't any more like him so he has no family to defend and no society to be part of, really all he wants to do is wander around, eat and sleep.  That's it.  Anything messes with that and things get exciting.  Not the good kind of exciting."

"I wish we had known to talk to you before we went after him."

"Yeah, well.  Live and learn."

The lieutenant commander winced.  That was the second time he had heard that phrase today.  "Yes, sir.  I think the tight compartmentalization of this intelligence is at the root of the problem.  Secrets get out, and sometimes the people keeping them didn't realize they were keeping each other's secrets from each other.  And that's just dumb."

"Yes, it is.  And here we are trying to slap the lid back down on Pandora's box."

"Yes, sir, exactly.  I don't think it's going to work, though."

The Fish and Wildlife man had been listening with an expression of mild disgust.  "Jesus."


"If any of you had asked us we would have told you.  Of course we would have told you.  And we would have told you to leave the ape where he was, we would have told you that the movies were real, we would have told you bringing anything like that here was just plain stupid.  And of course you didn't ask because who the hell in the military ever listens to a civvie?  Not ever do you take orders from us even when we know better than you do.  Son of a bitch.  And now you drop both of these damn things here.  Son of a...shit!"  Jim appeared to be wishing for angrier words.  He seemed to be almost on the edge of tears with rage.

Carnegie looked frankly amazed.  "You knew?  When were you read in?"

"Twenty years ago!  This has been on my extreme back burner almost since I first got promoted to the department.  We watch them, we keep track of them, and we leave them the hell alone.  Because that's the most reasonable thing you can do with them."

"But Fish and Wildlife?  How did the department find out?"

"Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry told us about Gojira.  We told them about Kong right after World War Two.  MacArthur told Shigemitsu aboard the Missouri about a half-hour after they signed the surrender, and we gave them further details about him in the month following.  That's when they told us about Gojira.  It was a culture shock for both of us.  Their Minisry was called something else then, I don't remember what.  Christ.  What a cock-up you people have made.  Dammit!"  Jim looked very much like he wanted to punch each and every military man present, and with the probable exception of Ted the SEAL could probably deal out quite a bit of damage before being subdued.  Carnegie resolved to pass the word to the Chief not to relinquish Jim's weapon back to him for a while yet.

"You dipshits have screwed this whole situation so hard and I cannot see it getting unscrewed."

"You want to watch you language, sir?  I am a colonel in the-"

"I don't care if you're the everloving Queen of May."  Jim took a few deep breaths.  "You know what, that was uncalled for.  I apologize.  You, Colonel, are here on a containment directive, right?"

The colonel nodded.

"But you bozos-" Jim waved at the Navy officer.

"Hey, now..."

"Stuff it.  You bozos brought Kong here.  Was this your big idea to keep him under wraps and safe?  This pathetic little island?"

"Yeah, convenient to the mainland, plenty of cover..."

"He's going to starve first if you can't provide the right kind of food for him.  And then he'll freeze to death when winter hits."

"We were going to figure something out by then."

Jim shook his head and actually looked skyward, as if hoping to find the hand of God holding out a list of clear instructions.  No hand appeared.

"You're fired."

"What?  No, I don't get fired, and not by you. Our mission would benefit everyone if it's successful."

"Your mission has placed the entire country at risk.  Colonel, I need you to accompany me."  Jim started back toward the lodge.

"Sorry, Fish and Wildlife, I don't answer to you."

"You do now.  Come on and stop arguing."  The snap of command made Carnegie start moving almost by instinct, which he instantly resented at a deep level.  He felt that he had somehow been betrayed by his own training.  Suddenly an unbelievable noise rolled over the island, setting his teeth on edge.  He froze and listened.

A voice bellowed from inside the lodge.  "Trouble!  They're moving!"

"They?  They are moving?"  Jim broke into a run.


A few more of the pink screamers had advanced from the woods, joining with the first.  They were still very quiet compared to the brown screamers at home.  He watched them warily.  He didn't want to kill them - the smell of blood made him uneasy, it usually attracted larger and sometimes even more dangerous animals - but if they got too close he might have to.  Maybe he could scare them away.

He tore another tree up by its roots and flailed it around.  He didn't wave it too vigorously at the pink screamers in case they somehow stung him with their sticks, but waving it high and showing his teeth made them back up.  Good.

The Not Lake Monster had come out of the water behind him.  That was bad. Now he had threats ahead and behind.  And he was trapped on this island with the pink screamers, and the Not Lake Monster wasn't limited to just the water like the lake monster.  There was nowhere he could go.  He considered his options, trying to decide which would be more satisfying, and if he would have time to even be satisfied by the choice he made.  Should he die trying to kill the Not Lake Monster, or should he die trying to stamp out the hordes of pink screamers and their maddening stings?

If he killed the Not Lake Monster - assuming he could kill it - he would still be stuck on this little island with the pink screamers.  If he killed all the screamers, there would still be the Not Lake Monster.

Decisions, decisions.

The Not Lake Monster advanced past him, terrifyingly close.  It even placed one tremendous front leg - disproportionately small compared to its tree-like hind legs, but still gigantic - directly in front of him, lowered its body almost to the ground and roared at the pink screamers.

The pink screamers could be noisy.  He had even known that the Not Lake Monster would be loud, it had snorted at him earlier and he had been able to tell it would make sounds like nothing he had ever met before.  And even so the sound was shocking.

The Not Lake Monster roared like a typhoon through the forest and endless thunder in the valley.  It was a howl like the worst monster of home and a guttural, rattling rumble like the smoky mountain.  It wasn't just loud, it was huge.  A sound that filled the world, and it went on and on.

But it was just sound.  He knew that it was, really, just sound.  Noise.  He roared himself, to frighten other animals into leaving him be.  It often worked, which was why he kept doing it.  And the Not Lake Monster wasn't roaring at him, it was roaring at the pink screamers.

The pink screamers backed up, but not far enough or fast enough to suit him.  He roared himself, feeling the silvery hair on his back stand up, feeling his pulse thundering in his own temples.  He rushed ahead, crashed his fists into the ground, tore up handfuls of the shingle beach and flung it at the pink screamers.  He almost got one.  It ducked and dodged.

Finally.  The pink screamers broke and ran.  Good.  He threw another handful of boulders, throwing them right through a couple of trees on the way.  The pink screamers were screaming - he knew they would eventually - and their sound faded with distance.  Good.

The Not Lake Monster stopped roaring.  As the pink screamers' sound faded away, as the ringing in his ears faded away, he heard it snort again like it had before, just as it had sunk into the lake.

The Not Lake Monster wanted the pink screamers gone just as much as he did.  If it didn't like them and he didn't like them, they had something in common.

The Monster hadn't hurt him before.  It had certainly had the chance, looming over him as he slept.  But it had merely observed, and then followed as he ran away.  Then when he had been cornered, it had gone past him and gone into the lake.

The Monster was not dangerous.  There could be no other explanation.  It didn't smell like blood like monsters at home.  It wasn't fast and it wasn't afraid of him.  The usual things that meant a creature might try to hurt him, for whatever reason, weren't present here.  In light of everything that he had seen, it must not be a threat.

Pink screamers were coming out of the woods again.  Lots of them, more than he had seen yet.  He could hear the bangs and pops and yes, there were the stings and bites from their sticks.  Infuriated, he roared and slammed, but the Not Lake Monster retreated into the water.  He wished he could swim, he could leave these terrible little monkeys and their stings behind.  He hated them.  He wanted to go home.  At least he understood the monsters at home.  They made sense.

He watched the not pink tear chunks out of the ground and hurl them.  His own feet could not do that.  He couldn't really grab anything smaller than an orca.  The not pink was strong and fast and frightened.

He understood frightened.  He wasn't really frightened, not by the pinks and not by the not pink.  But he understood irritated and harassed, and the pinks would absolutely harass him if he stayed here.  He had already decided to leave the island behind and go find cooler water when he had heard the not pink roaring, and his curiosity got the better of him again. 

The not pink was being crowded and harassed by the not pinks.  There were lots of them now.  He recognized the type from earlier encounters, aggressive and insufficiently cautious like large sharks.  He didn't like to eat sharks because of all the biting but when they got too big they stopped being afraid.  These not pinks weren't afraid.

He absolutely would not eat these pinks.  Pinks were not good to eat.  He would have to retreat.

The not pink did not want to kill the pinks either.  He could understand that, it made other pinks even more aggressive.  Maybe the not pink knew that.  Why didn't the not pink jump into the water and swim away?

It couldn't swim.

The idea was amazing, in part because it was one of the most complex thoughts he had ever had and he knew it.  Everything he had ever experienced, even pinks, could swim.  The strange clattery shadows above and the silent shadows below could swim, orcas and sharks and dolphins could swim.  Even birds could swim. Water was for swimming in.  How could it be possible that anything in the world could not swim?

That thought was much too complex to hold onto, and it slipped away without leaving more than a vague idea behind.  If it can't swim, I will swim for it.  We both want to get away from the pinks.

He shuffled into the shallows and snorted at the not pink.

The giant ape and the prehistoric monster hovered on the beach, creating the strangest defensive formation he had ever seen.  Godzilla hunkered low, putting most of his mountain-like mass between the troops and Kong.  Kong, meanwhile, tore boulders out of the ground, boulders the size of cars, and flung them with terrible force at the advancing troops.  Nobody appeared to have been hit yet, but Kong's aim was good.  It was only because he telegraphed his throws so far in advance that the soldiers were able to dodge.  Somebody was going to run out of luck eventually, though. 

"Jesus we are in so much trouble."

"Isn't there a contingency plan for this?"

"There was never a contingency plan formulated for both of them."

On the monitors, Godzilla retreated into the water and snorted.

He looked around, momentarily disregarding the cracks and stings from the screamers' sticks.  The Not Lake Monster had retreated into the water and was looking at him pointedly.  It looked like it wanted to leave but couldn't.

He wondered why it didn't just go.  He couldn't swim but it could.  He knew pink screamers, like brown screamers, weren't good swimmers.  The Not Lake Monster was a good swimmer, he had seen that when it had disappeared into the water earlier.  It could get away from the pink screamers easily.

Still it waited.  It stared at him and snorted, and he wondered about that.  Some of the stings and itches had stopped, but the pink screamers were getting close again.  There were lots more of them and some of the stings throbbed.  A few screamers had brought up big sticks, the kind he hated most of all, the kind that shot lightning and roared thunder.  Those sticks didn't just sting, they hurt.

There were too many screamers to kill.  They were everywhere.  They were to either side on the beach, and more were coming from the forest.  He hated them.

Another snort.  The Not Lake Monster held still in the water, still like another island.  Another island covered with small jagged rocks.

Decisions.  The screamers would never leave him alone.  If monsters wouldn't leave him alone, he killed them...but there were too many screamers.  And the Not Lake Monster had left him alone for a while, and now it rose from the water like an island.  He didn't like water himself, but the Not Lake Monster didn't seem to be a threat.  And it appeared that the Not Lake Monster wasn't threatened by anything else, either.

If it wasn't dangerous to him, and nothing was dangerous to it, then maybe he needed to stay with it.
He wished his mate were here.  She could help him make decisions, or at least give him something to fight for.  There was nothing to fight for here except his own life, and he was tired of fighting. 

Maybe dying would be easier than this.  Maybe it wasn't as frightening as he thought.  Uncle had gone to sleep and never woken up again.  Mate had simply disappeared like the fog, there one night and gone in the morning.  In situations like this he usually fought so he wouldn't die, or ran away so he wouldn't die.  Fighting wouldn't work, there were far too many of the terrible little screamers.

He whirled, roared and leapt.  He landed on the jagged island of the Not Lake Monster's back.

Instantly he felt a surge and saw the beach begin to pull away as the screamers raced to the water's edge and screamed and thrashed.  No, that was wrong.  The beach wasn't pulling away.

He was getting farther from the beach.  The Not Lake Monster was swimming away from the beach with him on its back.

He looked down at the back of its head, straddling between the jagged scales on its back and barked.
It cocked its head a bit sideways, rolled one enormous yellow eye up at him, and snorted.  He could not imagine what that might mean.  It didn't sound aggressive, though.

The Not Lake Monster might submerge at any moment.  He would sink like a stone if it did and he realized he didn't care anymore.  There had been enough fighting.  But the Not Lake Monster was not fighting.  He was just swimming away from the island, himself on its back.

He reared and roared hatred at the beach, screaming defiance and rage at the screamers, slapping his chest.  And with a last snort he turned his back on them, his highest expression of derision.

Together they swam on.

"We're in a lot of trouble."

"You, maybe.  I didn't start this foolishness."

The colonel looked like he had aged years in just a few minutes.  Everything had suddenly become way more complicated than he had ever imagined.  "What's in their path?  Where will they come ashore?"

"Well, if they stay on their current course, about south-by-southwest, they've got about thirty-five miles before they touch land."

"Then what?"

"About fifteen miles after that, Saginaw."

The End...