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."

"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."

"Why?"

"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?"

"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."

"Sir?"

"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.

"They!"




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... 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Strange Fellows pt. 2

Daylight.

He lay flat on his back, eyes still closed, wondering if he had finally woken from an awful dream.  A dream populated with small, pink screaming monkeys that had somehow buried him alive, alive and alone.  That dream had gone on and on and on, worse than the worst fright he had ever had because it wasn't as frightening as it was boring.

His knuckles ached.  He remembered pounding them in the small, hard cave over and over, beating against the walls to escape.

He finally opened his eyes.  There, above him, was the canopy of the forest.  Not quite the canopy of home but a forest just the same.  That was reassuring.  The forest at home wasn't completely safe but at this point he didn't care.  He was exhausted.

He remembered the lake.  He was thirsty and he had already tested the lake.  It should be safe.  He rolled over.

Something like the lake monster at home raised its head and peered at him through enormous yellow eyes.  It rose above him like a scaly black cliff.

He roared his loudest in bald terror, tore a tree out of the ground and hurled it at the lake monster.  As the creature reared back, he raced away at top speed, weaving between the trees to put as much distance as possible between the monster and himself.




Sirens blared and red lights flashed.  All the surveillance monitors were now set to follow motion and a few were tracking, poorly, the huge grey shadow barreling through the forest.  A couple, however, were still showing the scene near the island's lake, unable to find a focus on the much larger moving signal there.

"Oh my God!  He's running!  Shit he's doing over 70 KPH!  What spooked him?  He just woke up, looked up and ran!  What spooked him?"

"Telemetry."  The morning shift surveillance officer was almost icily calm.  "Tracking.  Heading south toward the beach."

"Visual range?"

"No cameras."

"Not for us, will the mainland be able to see him?"

"Shouldn't."

"He's a lot taller than most things!"

"He isn't taller than the trees.  You can't see this island from the mainland at all unless you're on top of something, and there's nothing really tall close to the coast."




Amazing.  The creature had lain awake for a few moments - he had known it was awake by how its breathing had changed - then rolled over, spotted him and taken off at a tremendous pace.  He couldn't catch it at all.  He was not fast on land, himself.  He wasn't especially fast in the water, orca and dolphins could outpace him without difficulty.  That was part of what made catching and eating them so entertaining, the challenge of sneaking up on them.

But this creature had simply taken off.  It tore a tree out of the ground, threw it at him and was gone.

The tree had surprised him.  Not that the creature had thrown something at him, that wasn't different from other encounters, sometimes with pinks which he usually left alone, small though they were.
  
But the small pinks were somehow capable of throwing incredibly small things, so small he couldn't even see them, but which they nonetheless threw incredibly hard and fast.  Sometimes the things they threw would sting and itch and leave him irritable while the little wounds healed.

No pink had ever thrown a tree.  And as big as this creature was, the tree was even bigger.  It was much stronger than he had imagined.  He would have to be cautious.  It was possible that this new creature, with its weird almost-but-not-quite-pink smell, could be dangerous.




He thundered through the forest, heart hammering.  The lake monster had somehow followed him here.  Had it been the lake monster that had buried him alive?  No, that couldn't be right.  He never slept anywhere near the lake at home, and it couldn't venture far out of the water at all.  This monster, this Not Lake Monster, was a good distance away from water.  And he knew that it couldn't possibly be from the little lake where he had been drinking.  That lake was just too small.  But he was running too fast to think more carefully on just where this Not Lake Monster must have come from.

Water.

The forest came to an abrupt end, leaving him hustling out of the tree line before he could contain his headlong flight.  He was completely across the beach and knee-deep in the water before he came to a stop.

So much water!  He looked around himself quickly, looking for the monster behind him.  Was it chasing?  Was it hungry?  Could he lead it past something else, something big and slow that it might eat instead of himself?

Nothing there.  Running had winded him.  He was old and he knew it, he hadn't run like that in a long time, and the last time he had been much younger.  It had made him thirsty again.

He tasted the water he was standing in.  He expected it to taste like ocean, no good to drink.  It was such a huge expanse of water, what else could it be?  It must be ocean.

It wasn't.  The water was clear and cool, not ocean at all.  He drank greedily, noisily, knowing he was being incautious and drinking anyway.  Clear and cool...and sweet...like the lake monster's lake!

He barked alarm and backed quickly out of the water, onto the beach.

Sweet water like the lake monster's lake.  This new Not Lake Monster, even bigger than the lake monster, must have come from this water. 

He heard a sound and whirled around, feeling the silver fur on his back rising, brows lowering, exposing his fangs.

The Not Lake Monster was there.

He roared at it, bashing at the shingle beach, scattering stones and turf.  Maybe he could frighten it away.  It was too big for him to fight by himself, he and his mate could not have taken this thing together, and she had been gone for a long time now so why even think of her.  He would have liked to have had her here.  He might be less frightened.  Why think of her now?

The Not Lake Monster reared up a bit, alarming him further and he could feel his heart pounding.  His head felt like it was on fire and it seemed his eyes were becoming bigger.  He braced for it to lunge at him.  He would go for its neck.  Attacking the neck was usually the best approach.  Certainly everything that had ever tried to eat him had tried to attack his neck.  He had many scars on his neck.  He had felt them, running black fingers along them, remembering nightmares.

He had more scars on his arms.  He would thrust his arms past its gigantic mouth and grab its neck, grab and twist and squeeze until it either ran away or stopped moving.  Then he would get away.




He reared up to get a better look at the creature.  It was much, much larger than a pink.  It was even bigger than an orca but it didn't smell good to eat like an orca. He was not interested in eating it.  It smelled bad to eat.

It roared and thrashed.  That looked a little dangerous, it was obviously powerful.  Getting hit by the thrown tree had rattled him and delayed his pursuit.  When it hammered on the ground, he felt the tremors in his own feet.  It was very strong and clearly frightened, and frightened things could behave as if they were stronger, more dangerous than they really were.

Now, finally, in good light he could see it clearly.  It was nowhere as big as himself, but it was much, much faster.  It was also smart, he could see it glancing quickly all around to look for opportunities to escape.

That was unfortunate.  The creature seemed to feel trapped.  That didn't make sense, there was all that water behind it.  It could simply leap in and swim away.  If it could swim anything like it could run, it would outpace him easily and be safe...not that it was in any danger from him anyway.

Maybe not.  It was shaped like a pink, and pinks swam badly.  It might not swim well.  It might still feel threatened.  He backed up, cooing softly like a singing whale, hoping to calm its fears.




"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING."

"Don't yell at me, I just got here myself."

"Jesu-...what is...where did it come from?"

All the screens suddenly went blank.

"Now what?"  He tried the switches and got no results.  Then he peered under the desk to see that the power strips supplying the monitors had gone dark.  They heard a high-pitched tone sounding, an uninterruptible power supply had kicked in to power the systems downstream of the power strips but the monitors remained dark.  The overhead lights in the surveillance room were normally kept off, but he tried the switch now.  Nothing.  "Sonuva...the power has gone out."  He flipped the blinds open and brassy morning sunlight streamed into the room.

"Backup genny should have fired up already.  You'd hear it."

"UPS is running the computers, why'd the screens go dark?"

"Power outage but the computer's still working.  Are the cameras on uninterruptibles, too?"

"Ah, hell.  I have no idea.  But if their power crapped out that would explain why the screens are out but the system is still on, right?"

"I dunno."

A sharp rap came at the door, the kind of rap heard delivered by movie policemen during a tense scene.  The door opened before either of them could move to answer it.

"Gentlemen, this operation is scrubbed."

"Who the heck are you?"

"You'll get some answers during your debriefing."

"But who are you?"

"I'm the one scrubbing the mission.  At this moment, that's all you need to know."

Angered and prone to rashness after a tense night and sudden frights, the first man approached with his fists clenched, but not raised...not quite.  "I'm gonna find some stuff out right now."

The intruder drew a matte black pistol from a concealed holster, and like the first man didn't raise it...not quite.  "Sir, respectfully, I must ask you to stand down.  This mission is scrubbed."

The intruder watched while the first man struggled.  He appeared to be weighing the threat of the gun against the frustration of his impotence.  It was a curious tableau, and he did not envy the man's situation.

The first man's face worked, and the tension slowly eased from his shoulders.  He wasn't a small man but not very big either.  But his anger could have made him very dangerous.  The intruder could see all these details and assessed them, deciding that if it came to it he would probably have to kill the first man.  The second man was more passive, almost disinterested as he looked out the window.

The first man's fists unclenched.  He worked his hands convulsively, finally shaking them.  He gave the intruder an angry glare and started toward the door.

"Don't move.  I can't let you leave."

"Up yours.  I need to pee.  I either do it in the bathroom or I piss on your shoes or you shoot me and it leaks out all over the floor."

The second man snorted quietly.

The intruder thought about it for a moment and lowered his gun.  "Okay, go."  He turned to watch the first man stomp out of the surveillance room toward the main room, toward the bathroom, when he felt the arm snake around his neck.

Even as the pressure from the arm increased to what felt like the entire world wrapped in an uncomfortably hot, tight collar and the room was becoming tiny and dark, he had just enough time to wonder if he had been very skillfully played, or if the second man was simply taking an opportunity that he had foolishly left open.  When he was carelessly dropped to the floor, he didn't feel a thing.




The Not Lake Monster had retreated slightly.  That was a bit better but sometimes monsters backed up before charging.  At least he would have a little more time to respond to its charge.

Whatever it did, when it did charge it wouldn't be fast.  The Not Lake Monster, now that he had had a chance to observe it, was heavy.  It had thick, black scales on an equally thick hide.  It was clumsy on land, slow.  The lake monster at home was clumsy on land, almost immobile.  This Not Lake Monster was much more capable than that, but he could outrun it.  He wouldn't even have to go as fast as he had gone before, he could get away from it easily.

That made Not Lake Monster a lot less frightening.  If he could get away from it, that meant that if he needed to kill it to keep himself safe, it could not get away from him.

That was even better.  But he did wonder if he could kill it.  It was enormous, much larger than himself.  He probably couldn't.  But he could run away, he was confident of that.

They observed each other.




"Tell me your name."

The intruder blinked.  He had been hogtied, his hands behind his back and lashed via an extension to his ankles.  His legs were bent backwards.  The second man, the one who had seemed so dispassionate at his entry, had his weapon in his hands and was rapping it, firmly, against the intruder's forehead.  Not hard, but not too gently either.

"Fuck you."

"You must have had a terrible time in school, saddled with a name like that.  No, we both know that isn't your name.  Tell me your name."

"Or what?"

"I'll shoot off one of your toes."

"Don't get too casual with that gun, you're more likely to blow your own balls off."

"I'm not the one that had a concealed carry holster tucked down his pants.  I have no intention of putting this thing away, I'm going to keep it out where it's handy."

"You don't even know how to fire it."

"Glock 26, 33 round extended magazine fully loaded, pretty straightforward actually.   Point and click, right?"

The man's demeanor was still unaffected.  He was entirely too calm.  The intruder decided the second man needed to be rattled out of his groove.

"If you hurt me the agency I work for will make you disappear."

"I'm one of the keepers of an eight-meter-high mountain gorilla.  Something just literally scared the shit out of that gorilla and has chased it completely out of camera range.  Right now your agency is one of the lesser concerns I have going through my head and in a moment I'm going to decide I'm not sufficiently curious about you to continue bothering with you.  I don't need your full name, I just want you to tell me what your anonymous friends call you around the unmarked black water cooler.  So, one last time: what's your name?"

The intruder glared silently, his teeth clenched.  He flexed carefully in his bindings, trying to feel what had been used to secure him.  If these idiots had used zip ties he would be able to free himself pretty quickly.

The second man thumbed off the safety of the pistol with a soft click.  "There are enough rounds that I can ask lots of questions, as many questions as you have fingers and toes.  And there will be a few rounds left over for follow ups."

He felt his balls crawl, a sickening feeling.  He had been trained for this kind of situation but never actually experienced it. "Jim."

"Okay, good.  We're getting somewhere.  Hi, Jim.  I'm Ted.  You might know that already but I don't know if you had dossiers to study or anything like that."

"I think ours must be a little incomplete on you."

"Well, maybe.  Live and learn."

Amused in spite of himself, Jim chuckled a little. "Yeah."

"I see you're testing the ropes.  They're real ropes, not zip ties.  I took the knife out of your ankle scabbard and your holdout weapon so don't strain yourself trying to get to them.  I patted you down looking for ID and found, interestingly, nothing.  No dogtags, not even a fake driver's license.  And also interestingly, no keys for a vehicle of your own.  That suggests you were dropped at the shore and somehow hired or stole a boat, were dropped on the island by an agency boat, or were dropped from orbit.  I'm guessing that last is probably not the case but it's a weird day for everyone so I'm not taking it off the table."

Ted was uncomfortably astute, and Jim was rearranging his assessments of the personnel he had encountered thus far. He was himself a clandestine operative trying to shut down another agency's clandestine operation, why had he gone into this treating them as if they were mere civilians?
And of course "mere" civilians could harbor dangerous skills and information.  He had been recklessly sloppy.  If he died here, that would be just desserts for ridiculously lax practice.

The first man came into Jim's field of view.  "Get anything from him yet?"

"Not yet, but he did give me a name to call him by."

"Well, that's something.  'Hey Asshole' isn't specific enough."

"Anybody might answer."

Jim chuckled again.  "How in the hell did you get this job?"

The first man answered.  "We're non-linear thinkers."

"That's for damn sure.  Can you tell me what agency you're from?"

"Well, Jim.  You won't tell us anything and now you want to ask questions.  We're not quite as secretive as you appear to be but I think there should still be a measure of reciprocity, don't you?  I can tell by your accent you're American, native to the southeast, probably Tennessee or southwestern Virginia.  You're about forty years old, good condition, skilled in firearms but not with that knife.  I don't think you're military or law enforcement or else I wouldn't have been able to get such an easy jump on you.  You lost control of the scenario almost immediately.  So what shadowy arm of which legitimate department sent you?"

"I asked you first."

"And you're hogtied and I have the gun."

"Movement south by southwest two hundred meters."  The first man, still unable to get anything from the dead computers, was watching through the windows with an enormous pair of binoculars.  "Human."





The huge not-pink had calmed somewhat.  That was good.  Chasing after it had made him hot, wriggling carefully through all those trees.  He didn't care to be out in the sun like this, especially not when the water beckoned just beyond the not-pink.  He could cool off so soon and think more clearly, but the not-pink, small as it was, was between him and the water.  It was fast and strong.  It probably couldn't do him terrible damage, not like some of the nightmares he had had to contend with in the past, but it was much more agile than they had ever been.  And the not-pink appeared to be smarter, too.  It might not do terrible damage, but he knew that intelligence was a threat far more subtle than teeth and claws, a subtlety he couldn't comprehend.  The not-pink was observing, thinking.  He understood smashing, crushing, biting very well, but observing and considering were unnerving.  He knew what they were, but he didn't understand them very well.

His curiosity continued to seeth and bubble in his brain, and he felt even hotter.  This was intolerable.  The water was right there.

He backed up, hoping to show himself not a threat.  He knew he was bigger than almost anything else, that virtually everything else he ever met considered him a threat.  But distance made things look small, so he put some distance between himself and the not-pink.  Then, choosing a new path that took him to one side of the creature on the beach, he eased slowly past it and into the water.

This was so much better.  Staggering about on land was laborious, tiring.  Every step heated him up a little more until he raged at his own discomfort and lashed out, bashing through everything until he got back to the water.  There had been terrible dreams of blundering about on land, desperate for nothing more than to get back to the water, harassed by the tiny pinks and strange screaming birds that never flapped their wings, dreams that never seemed to end and when he did wake from them, he itched and ached where the birds and pinks had somehow stung him.  But in the water was cool, quiet.  He could feel the seeping heat ebbing away.  This was better.

He raised his head again, keeping most of his body in the water but raising his head completely.  The not-pink was still there, watching him.  When his head came out the not-pink barked and backed away from the water's edge a little further.  He snorted at the not-pink, submerged and swam away to wonder at what he had seen.





The Not Lake Monster had retreated into the water.  First it had confronted him and though he had roared defiance at it, it had not retreated until he had stopped roaring.  And even then it hadn't retreated very far.  It just watched him.  That was so strange he had had to stop roaring just to think about what it was doing.  It didn't behave anything like the lake monster, a nightmare of teeth and neck and flippers.  This was nothing like that, but it was disquieting enough.

Then it had retreated a little bit further, and then advanced past him, enormous but silent as fog, and slid into the water.  Stranger still.  It hadn't tried to eat anything.  It certainly hadn't tried to eat him, which was perhaps the strangest thing he had ever seen.  At home everything was trying to eat everything else, with himself as the only exception.  He ate plants, quietly stripping leaves off trees, munching handfuls of coconuts when he could find them.  It was only other animals that ate other animals, and far too many of those wanted to eat him.  He had killed several in terrifying, violent encounters but that didn't seem to dissuade any of the other animals from coming after him.

The lake monster had come after him in a painful rush but after it had lunged a few body lengths out of the lake, it had given up.  It had no chance at him and snapped, equally fruitlessly, at a few birds before humping back into the lake.

The Not Lake Monster had almost no neck.  Certainly nothing like the lake monster's.  It was short and thick.  The head looked too small for its body.  It had big jagged scales on its back, large muscular hind legs and a stout tail.  It didn't look quite like anything he had ever seen.  It resembled some things in certain ways, but he wasn't fooled.  It didn't look quite like those other animals, and didn't behave like them either.  This was a new thing and he would have to consider it carefully.

It lifted its head clear of the water and snorted at him.  It wasn't a snort of defiance, he couldn't discern any meaning in it.  It wasn't even very loud.  He barked at it, also without heat.  The head submerged again and he was unable to watch it further.




Ted was finally, finally rattled.  "You can't be serious.  Fish and Wildlife?  For real?"

"For real.  You have to know what an ecological disaster it is, bringing that thing here.  Why couldn't you leave it alone?  Why bring it here?"

Ted dithered.  The first man spoke up.  "At ease."

Jim allowed his surprise to show.  The man's casual delivery of those two simple words radically changed his perception of the relationships in the room.

"You can call me Lieutenant Commander.  If that's too much of a mouthful, leave it at LC.  I won't take offense."

"Sir, can we read this guy in?  He's a civvie."

"We can't tell him everything.  But we seem to be on the same side.  I want to know, though, Jim, how did you even know to come here?"

"We've been tracking your ship ever since it entered the St. Lawrence Seaway.  We backtracked its course all the way to the Andaman Sea via satellite images.  Why did you bring that thing here?"

"The island where we found the creature isn't on many maps.  It doesn't usually show up on satellite..."

"We noticed."

"...its climate is a little weird.  It's pretty cloudy there all the time.  But the island has been geologically unstable since the earthquake that caused the tsunami in Indonesia in '04.  We're afraid the island may collapse and sink into the ocean."

"Collapse?  Can an entire island even do that?"

"Well, the eggheads in charge tell me there's a couple of little ones that were completely above water just twenty years ago and aren't anymore, so it isn't something they've never heard of.  But they're saying the island in question is actually the top of a pretty steep underwater mountain, and it's been getting more unstable since the quake.  They say it could slump at any time, and pretty much any new earthquake that hits within five hundred miles will likely be enough to collapse it completely."

"So now you're telling me a mountain can collapse."

"Look, sir, I'm not the scientist.  I'm a Navy specialist.  There was something the guy said, black smokers, lave columns, angles of repose.  It all sort of made sense when he said it and it still does, but I don't understand it well enough to repeat it and get it all right.  But the point was that if we wanted to collect anything off that island, later might be too late and if we wanted anything then it should be a target of high value.  Kong is high value."

"'Kong?'"

"That's what the natives called him.  Treated him like a god figure.  They even wanted to sacrifice one of our scientists to it!"

"Holy crap.  How did that turn out?"

"Badly.  She's a judo black belt and put him on his ass.  The other locals got violent, shots were fired but it wasn't a full engagement.  Nobody was shooting for effect.  It was pretty tense there for a few hours.  We held them off with smoke grenades and tear gas.  That worked pretty well."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah.  Not a lot of wind.  Tear gas hung around and was super effective.  Kind of weird for an island.  I'm not complaining."

"Okay.  'Kong' is high value.  What makes him...it is a him?"

"Oh, yes sir.  He's a him.  Make no mistake."

"What makes him high value?"

"The island is a tropical cesspool of infectious elements.  There's jungle rot like you wouldn't believe.  More biting bugs than Michigan and New Hampshire combined in a land mass no bigger than Manhattan, and none of the bugs brush or floss.  Fungus that rots your clothes to threads in a week.  We took a raft of vaccinations before setting out and had to have boosters while in country."

"And nobody thought of testing the natives for their resistance?"

"Like I said, they didn't like us.  And we couldn't just snatch them."

"No?"  Jim's eyebrows had gone right up into his hair.

"No, sir!  They might be cavemen technologically, but they're people.  We can't go kidnapping people.  That's just wrong."

"But snatching an eight-meter mountain gorilla wasn't wrong?"

"I don't see how."

"Dian Fossey's lesson is completely lost on you."


"Who?"