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The Radio Room
A not-quite-flash spec-fiction piece
All metaphysical arguments evaporated the moment there was no God, no design, only a new science that was not dissimilar from but did not conform to Earthly physics, a chaos that arrived with the Icaridians. Time, as a concept, wasted when we no longer aged or grew or changed—like a broken clock, stuck—the time’s passage made irrelevant in the loss of a linear path to an end, to God. Though the Icaridians came bearing an ending, it was not the picture of harmony some prophesized. Far from it. The arrival of the Icaridians and the abilities that came with them fundamentally changed the way humans experienced time: no longer linear, but spherical, and hostile to limits, finality.
The acrid stink of the ichor, viscous and cold, oozed from a fresh incision in the delicate, plasma-like lump of organic matter that reeked of methane but shared none of the compound's chemical properties. It melted through flesh, the ichor. A momentary lapse in judgement and an ungloved hand was enough to teach even the most stubborn scientist that particular lesson.
There was a whoosh of air, and Sergeant Greene clattered to the floor of the radio room, one of the only places safe from the invasion outside. He got to his feet, glanced at the bandage covering a wound on my hand that would never heal, and sighed. The twisted expression on his face suggested he held back chastisement, which was just fine; the damage was done.
He nodded my way, set his jaw. “Glad to see you in the lab today, Doc.” Greene’s voice echoed behind my eyes, and I could hear the curling edge of mirth in his words.
As if there would be anyone else. “An old fashioned chat, please. The Icaridians can’t reach us here.” I waved around the stone and metal underground box in which I’ve worked and lived for an incalculable amount of time. “Hell, I don’t even know the coordinates of this location.” My vocal cords crackled from disuse.
“That’s Top Secret, Doc. And speaking of Top Secret, I’ve come to see the craft,” Greene said, his voice gruff.
“Jackboots already hauled it off.”
A wrinkle formed over his brow. “Which ones?”
“Green Berets. No names, only titles.” I pulled a card from my lab coat pocket and handed it to him, minding the bandage fastenings. He glanced at the card, wrinkled his nose as if he smelled something putrid, turned it over in his fingers. “Said the craft was headed to a hangar,” I continued and dropped the magnifying glass with which I had been inspecting the ghastly creature on the metal tray on the table before me. “My guess is deconstruction,” I said and turned to Greene. “They didn’t tell me anything beyond that.”
“Damn,” he said, shoulders drooped. “I hoped to take a piece of the craft before it went. For camouflage.” He glanced at the back of the room where the pile of mirror-like downed ship parts had once been, and I shuddered. Truthfully, I was glad to be rid of the parts. Eerily silent they were, but buzzing with magnetism, as if alive and watching. Though observing what, I could not say.
“Sorry. I was busy protecting the specimen,” I said, gestured toward the blue mass neither animal nor plant, a rubbery, deflated balloon. Placental. Studying it was my only task, one that had become vital in the search for survival of the human species and the destruction of the terraforming invaders. Not that I was any closer than I had been in finding the answers sought.
“They are elusive in battle, and they get inside the minds of our soldiers, urging them toward suicide. I’m watching my men rip themselves apart. Colonel Bahret—” Greene stopped, dropped his chin to his chest. “We need a way to protect ourselves from mind control. I’d hoped the ship, the mirrors that hid the invasion so well for months could also hide our soldiers.”
I breathed out from behind my teeth and looked back at petri dishes of biological samples and cultures on the table waiting for me. I would work on solving that problem when I had the lab to myself again, though I was uncertain how. Only the radio room blocked the signals of the Icaridians, and one cannot fight a war in solitude.
“Have you learned anything useful?” Greene asked.
Useful was subjective. “Not much.” I picked up my notepad and scanned it, looked for anything that could assist on the battlefield. “The nervous system appears to be intact, but there are no discernable pain receptors. While the Icaridians show awareness that their physical bodies are in danger, I can’t say how they know.”
A look that stretched between perseverance and defeat washed over Greene’s face. I continued, “Based on the composition of the mass and its density, my guess is that the physical bubble, for lack of a better term, is intended to exist among gases, being that it's mostly comprised of gas and plasma. Think of a whale, how the buoyancy of water protects the whale body from crushing itself.”
“As any hypothesis is.” I looked again at the deflated mass in autopsy, gestured for Greene to join me. He did and peered down at the blue lump, wet and slick. “This blue bubble, the one recovered from the broken ship we captured, appears to be the vulnerable part of the creature. Its consciousness is separate from it.” I paused at the sharp intake of breath from the man beside me. “It’s why it appears they throw their voices. And it's likely why you observed them fighting to protect their downed ships. They must protect their physical bodies, lest they die.” Even the Icaridians could not escape Earthly death.
“Separate consciousness?” Greene repeated, seemed to consider the weight of such a prospect. “Like astral projection?”
“Yes, like astral projection, except it is not a choice, not a skill to be learned. There doesn’t appear to be a way for the consciousness to re-enter its bubble.” I pointed to pinned-back tissue exposing the indigo and violet shades of the glistening insides that seemed to writhe and slither even as they remained still. “However, I've not discovered how the consciousness links to the bubble.”
“What have you found?”
“There are six organs, four of which continue to be the subjects of tests. The largest organ,” I explained, pointed to a pyramid-like shape in the center of the exposed interior, “appears to filter the ichor, like a human kidney, though it also pumps like a heart does but without veins or arteries. The second largest is the external tissue, its skin, if you will.”
Greene began to pace, stomped over the concrete and wire mesh of the radio room floor, pulled at his belt and holster, his fingers working the leather as if possessed.
“I do know,” I continued, “that the Icaridian bubbles are vulnerable to water. Pure, distilled water is the fastest way to dissolve the tissue and liquify the insides. While we can’t destroy the consciousness, we can kill the bodies, which, by proxy, means the consciousnesses no longer exist. At the very least, they become relegated to an existence beyond human experience or interaction. Beyond threat.”
Greene’s eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to speak. I held up a hand to stop him.
“While cleaner water works on the lifeform faster, the speed at which water dissolves the tissue is, in and of itself, a danger to life on Earth.” I picked up a scalpel from the tray, carved a small square of tissue, not more than one-inch wide, from the mass on the table. “Stand behind the safety glass.”
“Is this all really necessary?” Greene stopped pacing, turned to me with a wildness in his eyes.
“You’ll thank me later. Now, safety glass, please.” Once he stomped behind the safety glass in the corner of the lab, I secured the tissue sample to the testing equipment, suspended it above a small metal tank of distilled water. Then, I joined Sergeant Greene behind the glass in relative safety.
“Tissue sample in distilled water. Dropping in three, two, one.” I counted down and pressed a small, black button, releasing the tissue. Greene and I watched it drop three feet before landing in the tank. The moment it touched water, the tissue sample exploded and dissolved, covered the equipment with a blue goo, splattered the glass pane that protected us. A mouse in an uncovered box melted under the spray.
I glanced at Greene expecting fear, at the very least, consternation, for the knowledge that a swift death for the Icaridians could mean a swift death for humans, all life, as well. Instead, I witnessed preoccupation, like Greene receded into himself, stepped out of the lab in mind.
“Safer to drop them all into the middle of the ocean?”
“For immediate human safety, yes. Ocean water isn’t pure enough to produce the kind of explosion created in the lab, though it would be enough to dissolve the bulbous parts of the creatures. However,” I pointed to a biohazard container in the corner of the room near the safety glass panel, “Long term, perhaps short term, the ichor is deadly to carbon-based life and will be nearly impossible to extract from the ocean once in it. It spreads quickly, too.” I gestured to the water tank, now swirling with indigo. Greene stepped out from behind the glass, made his way to the biohazard container, ripped off the lid, blanched, closed it again while I spoke. “Dropping even a hundred of these bodies into the ocean could render all oceans uninhabitable in a matter of days, maybe weeks. Even if humans survived the attack—”
“God." Greene put a hand into his hair, pulled at the strands of oily brown. “Even if humans survive the Icaridians, we could go the way of the passenger pigeon?”
I nodded, remembered God's broken promises of goodness, the loss of safe passage that came with the Icaridians and their frozen time. “What about you, your team outside?”
Greene’s voice was weary and dry when he responded. “Training. Teleportation is not only a convenient side effect of the invasion, it is necessary for our survival. We are training soldiers to teleport in battle to escape assault. Harder than it sounds. Requires each man to rewire his fight-or-flight instinct. The tests are…” Greene clicked his teeth. “Unpalatable.”
“At least you have a reason to carry a water gun,” I pointed out. The idea of hydrophobic aliens would have been absurd if not for the inter-galactic war that raged on Earth’s surface, the stinking blue lump on my table, and the swirling, dark matter in the tank.
Greene’s smile was wry and solemn. “Destroying these creatures is top priority, but we cannot have guys melting in the field from goo splatter. Speed is the problem.”
“Wave-blocking shields are heavy and require conditioning for stamina.” Greene glanced at his wrist looking for a watch that wasn’t there and would have been useless if it was.
“I cannot leave the battalion out there with clenched arses and waning hope. They will be dead before we have a chance to resist.”
Before the words left my lips, Sergeant Greene was gone, having teleported back to wherever he had been.
I turned back to the table, to petri dishes and spun samples and biological materials that could not have been born of Earth, continued as I had been, pretended the world as I knew it was not ending.
I started writing this piece back in August 2019 and realized only during the revision process that it likely belongs to a series of flash pieces detailing how various lives are changed by an alien invasion, beginning with A Serious Man.
It may also simply be, perhaps, that I have a thing for stinky blue aliens. Your guess is as good as mine.
Feel free to comment if you enjoyed this piece or if you’ve found yourself favoring one type of alien over others, whether they be the Grays, Little Green Men, the Tall Whites, the Reptilians, Stinky Blues, or something else entirely.
Happy reading & writing!