Chapter 5 - Armageddon Center
Saturday, May 15
In a sun-parched area north of Ridgecrest, California, lay a rattlesnake-infested region of military land 4,500 square kilometers across known as the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake. Here, the U.S. military designed and tested missiles, artillery and other amazing weapons away from the curious eyes of citizens those systems were made to protect. The Sidewinder air-to-air missile which American fighters have used since the 1950’s was created at China Lake. The AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile and the AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missile were tested here in the 1970’s as well. Almost every missile born during the witchy years of the Cold War originated at the China Lake proving grounds, and it was here where Colonel Martin Towsley had received requisition and clearance to build his fortress.
He stood in the hot afternoon sun outside the tunnel and watched four MH-53J Pave Low helicopters take off from the heliport near the 9,200 foot runway a mile away. His organization was on the move. “Icarus Hammer” had been ordered, and all APIS personnel were being airlifted to the Southern California Logistics Airport at George Air Force Base ninety miles northeast of L.A. However, Towsley had to stay behind for the moment and would not be joining the A-teams until later . . . because Air Force One would be arriving shortly.
After the steward closed the door to his personal cabin, the President of the United States took out the four-page document that had been added to his Daily Brief back at the White House by a mysterious Air Force major——a tall, blond woman with an attractive face. She wove a menacing story of extraterrestrial forces coveting Earth, crashed alien ships, and an imprisoned “biological.” Apparently, another crash had just occurred somewhere in southern California this morning, prompting an enigmatic Air Force organization to hastily assemble the president and his National Security Team aboard Air Force One and send them west. As far as the White House Press Corp knew, he was still in the Oval Office working on a slow day. These top-secret, impromptu flights from Washington D.C. were nothing new anyway.
Still trying to believe the Air Force woman’s incredible story, the president opened the document:
* TOP SECRET / EYES ONLY *
DO NOT COPY
COPY ONE OF ONE
SUBJECT: CHARTER FOR AERIAL PHENOMENA INVESTIGATIONS SQUADRON / NEAR-EARTH SPACE SURVEILLANCE AND TRACKING CENTER, CHINA LAKE, CALIFORNIA.
DOCUMENT PREPARED 22 OCTOBER 1994 FOR EVENTUAL RELEASE TO CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENT (3rd UPDATE 21 MARCH 2009).
ON THIS DOCUMENT HEREAFTER, “YOU” AND “YOUR” WILL REFER TO THE CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENT READING THE DOCUMENT.
NOTE: This document has been prepared only as a concise operations briefing.
EXPLANATION OF APIS
The Aerial Phenomena Investigations Squadron is a top secret research, recovery and intelligence operations group formed as a separate division from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Office of Naval Intelligence. The APIS was established by DOD Directive 3306.7 on 15 May 1994, and is under the command of Colonel Martin Towsley, USAF. Only few USAF and USN officials are aware of the APIS and the NESSTC’s existence. This agency determined that it was necessary at the time of its conception to withhold sensitive information from you, your Cabinet, Congress, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the media. Members of this classified organization consider any knowledge of the APIS/NESSTC or of the approaching extraterrestrial forces to be detrimental to public repose and psychologically impede your duties as Commander-in-Chief.
On 14 May 1994, the NSA intercepted a Chinese radio transmission from the Wuzhai Missile and
Space Test Center to 2nd Artillery Corp headquarters which explained details of a UFO over the installation. The Chinese managed to damage the object with a low-yield nuclear-tipped SAM over the Tarim Basin. The unidentified aircraft then landed on its own power several hundred miles distant in NE Afghanistan. An ICARUS HAMMER directive, which is a code phrase for the crash of an extraterrestrial object, was issued by the newly formed APIS to assemble a recovery team to capture the alien craft and possible EBs (Extraterrestrial Biologicals). This mission proved successful. The craft endured minimal damage, and the recovery team discovered the sole pilot to be alive (You have the opportunity to observe this being and its vehicle following the closure of this briefing).
The EB breathes oxygen, drinks liquid water and consumes only raw, room-temperature meat (preferably beef). During a brief medical examination in June of 1994, APIS physicians discovered the alien is hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. Every sixteen months, the creature gives birth to a single infant usually weighing eight pounds (gestation period——7 months). These infants have been terminated immediately after birth and dissected for medical analysis.
Communication with the EB, which members of the APIS have named “Caliban” after the sub-human character in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, began very slowly. Since the creature does not possess lips or a tongue, and therefore unable to communicate in physical human speech, the APIS employed Dr. Richard Bennings from the Anthropology Department at the University of Illinois to teach the alien American Sign Language. Bennings has worked with articulate gorillas and chimpanzees at Zoo Atlanta and is the author of many scientific articles dealing with primate communication. As interrogation proceedings began in November of 1994, the APIS learned that Caliban is merely the first of an extraterrestrial armada approaching Earth. Numerous inquiries on the nature of this force revealed that their purpose is most likely hostile. It is unclear what the objectives of this apparent invasion are since Caliban refuses to respond to that specific question when asked. Attempts to obtain this answer by withholding food and water have proven unsuccessful.
After numerous failed endeavors, scientists were finally able to decipher the computer language aboard Caliban’s spacecraft and interface with several of its hardware and software systems. High-altitude images of American military airfields were discovered in a database, as were Soviet-built naval bases. This lead to the assumption that larger American, Russian and Chinese military installations, such as ICBM sites, strategic bomber bases, naval yards, and C4I posts, have also fallen under extraterrestrial scrutiny. Therefore, the likelihood that the United States faces a critical threat to its national security is genuine.
Proof indicating these beings have the capacity and impudence to mount an invasion of Earth is verified by two facts: (1) The existence of reconnaissance images of American, Russian and Chinese military installations aboard Caliban’s fighter implies their significant interest in our military strength, particularly our strategic nuclear options, and (2) recorded testimony suggesting that Caliban considers humanity to be a species of a “lesser order” and lacking a wide-sentient awareness. Because of these alarming circumstances, it is extremely imperative that the public and the media are not informed of the aliens’ existence until an appropriate time is deemed crucial. Procedures have been implemented to counter this menacing state-of-affairs.
Construction of the Near-Earth Space Surveillance and Tracking Center (NESSTC, or “Nesstic”) began in February of 1995 and completed in April of 2001. The APIS/NESSTC is “unofficially” designated as the 75th Space Wing of 14th Air Force of Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colorado. Its operations are Classified Black, and therefore ARE NOT SUBJECT TO GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE INQUIRIES, CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHTS OR BUDGETARY RESTRICTIONS.
Operations of the NESSTC are similar to those of NORAD, however, inter-solar system surveillance is the primary focus and not solely U.S. airspace. The NESSTC operates a 23-telescope, surveillance satellite code named Medusa Stare with full-sweep, 360-degree tracking. In addition to Medusa Stare, the NESSTC is the nerve center to a large constellation of satellite weapons designed to provide a defense when the extraterrestrial forces arrive. They are:
* 17 DIABLO nuclear-pumped x-ray lasers (large target utility)
* 33 EXODUS electromagnetic railguns (small-to-intermediate target utility)
These satellite weapons were launched between 1999 and 2003 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Kourou ESA launch facility in French Guiana, and the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. Since monies to fund Divine Wind would have to have been appropriated by Congress——therefore alerting the public of the NESSTC’s existence——funds were accrued from internationally siphoned capital.
Accompanying these orbital weapons is a new class of upper-tier surface-to-air missile designed to track and destroy the alien vessels if they enter our atmosphere: the ScramHawk hypersonic SAM. This is a hydrogen-fueled, long-range SAM with scramjet propulsion (1st boost phase - solid rocket; 2nd boost phase - ramjet; 3rd phase - scramjet). They are able to attain speeds of MACH 7, and each is armed with a non-nuclear “plasma bomb” warhead with a dial-a-yield of 1-to-30 kilotons. The ScramHawk has an operating range of 3,700 nautical miles and an altitude of 420,000 feet. Although, the ScramHawk is essentially a “flying robot,” it has no true artificial intelligent processor but does follow fixed, minimally adaptive programs such as Identify Friend or Foe targeting. The sea-based surface variant, known as the RIM-202A ScramHawk, is launched from all Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with the AEGIS Combat System.
These orbital and surface weapons are code named DIVINE WIND and can be activated only by authorization from the National Command Authority as defined in the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986.
*** END OF DOCUMENT ***
The president closed the document and placed it on his desk. Every Commander-in-Chief had that one moment that defined his presidency. Lincoln had Gettysburg. FDR, Pearl Harbor. Kennedy, the Cuban Missile Crisis. This would be his.
“Alien invaders,” he murmured.
The spacecraft was flat, diamond-shaped and about twenty-by-thirty feet in diameter, the engineers having propped it on large, hydraulic lifts long ago. A single, faceted pane of what looked like glass appeared to be the cockpit windshield. It was completely black, either by design or smoked by the Chinese nuke, so the president could not see into the cockpit. The craft had the appearance of a large organism rather than a machine, an aquatic creature from a Pre-Cambrian Era sea like a metallic, wedge-shaped trilobite. The president refused requests to inspect the inside. He had seen enough.
Colonel Martin Towsley, commanding officer of the APIS, continued the tour of the gargantuan, underground hangar before escorting the president and his entourage to the colonel’s office on Level Three.
The colonel was a robust fellow, about five-foot-ten with a finely trimmed mustache and a graying hairline moving north and a gut moving south. He had a stalwart manner, an inbred trait of all military men, but also a touch of conflicting sadness around the eyes. He spoke big but sounded small. Strange.
The Near-Earth Space Surveillance and Tracking Center was a monstrous installation. Its design resembled NORAD in many aspects, but a few discrepancies made it unique to its cousin in Colorado Springs. Constructed beneath the granite shield of the Argus Mountain Range, the NESSTC was a five level, 230,000 square foot complex housing the Combat Operations Center, medical labs, infirmary, an office wing, sleeping quarters, a mess hall, a nuclear power plant, and a large research hangar. A single, eighty-foot wide tunnel served as the only access to the installation, its entrance barricaded with three five-foot thick, depleted-uranium shields which slid up from the ground. The base was mounted on huge helical springs to withstand the shock of a twenty megaton nuclear blast, and it contained enough food supplies to maintain operations for three months if cut off from the outside. The mammoth cavern which sheltered it used to be the original site for NORAD, but in 1955, the Air Force decided at the last minute to move their early-warning facility to Colorado. It had remained empty and forgotten until Towsley, General Taggart and the APIS showed up in 1994.
The Combat Operations Center resembled the insides of a movie theater. Two large computer maps——one of the solar system, the other a global projection of Earth——concealed the entire front wall. Smaller screens on either side of these two displayed real-time images from Medusa Stare and bits of scrolling computer data referring to the trajectories, direction, and speed of various comets and near-Earth asteroids. The Ops Center served as the nerve center for all surveillance and weapons systems, spacecraft detection, atmosphere-entry early-warning, submarine and surface ship positions and satellite control. It was also linked by EMP-resistant communications to NORAD, Strategic Command, the Pentagon, and the White House.
Forty Air Force and Navy officers were currently at their computer consoles, reading data, tracking and communicating with airborne traffic and monitoring the heavens for possible danger. Other than the natural peculiarities of the solar system——comets, solar eruptions, wandering asteroids——Medusa Stare currently detected no alarming drive flares or the blueshift of reflected sunlight off an incoming object’s hull.
“Mr. President,” Towsley said. “This is Lieutenant General Lloyd Taggart, our commander-in-chief here at the Nest.”
Taggart saluted and shook the president’s hand. “Pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“The pleasure’s mine, general. This place looks like Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center.”
“Well, it’s a little more elaborate than Mission Control, but it does have its similarities.”
Towsley continued the introductions. “This is Rear Admiral Raymond Breuer, NESSTC second-in-command. And you met my right-hand lady Major Deanna Weinholt, our intelligence officer, at the White House this morning.”
The president returned salutes and shook hands. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.”
Towsley turned to General Taggart. “The president wants to meet Caliban. Is Dr. Bennings down in the Containment Area?”
“I believe so,” the general replied. “That’s where he always is. He lives down there you know.”
“Mr. President, if you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to my office for a quick Q and A first.”
Towsley stared at his commander-in-chief and closely studied the man’s face while the president reread his brief. His eyes seemed to wander in a sleepy, drunken way, and he appeared to be breathing through his mouth. Towsley saw a nonbeliever who had just read the Book of Revelations for the first time and wanted to atone quickly for his sins.
Towsley refilled the president’s coffee mug, trying to think of something——anything——reassuring. “I want you to know that our satellite defenses are quite capable of dealing with this situation, Mr. President. Make no mistake, we understand that we’ll be facing a foe with greater technological advancements, but Divine Wind isn’t exactly a caveman’s club either. If the Law of Mediocrity says that aliens have to obey the same laws of physics as we do, then they’re just as susceptible to weapons of mass destruction as well. That includes radiation exposure, chemical agents, a bullet in the head, a stick in the eye, et cetera.”
“Tell me about yourself, colonel.”
The president’s request took Towsley, who wasn’t used to disclosing such information, a moment to register. Maybe the president just wanted to change the subject to ease his anxiety.
“My previous job was with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Also known as the FBI of the Air Force. My specialty was cybercrime deterrence, technology protection and foreign threat detection analysis. Before Special Investigations, I served with the Thirty-Fifth Tactical Fighter Wing and flew the F-4G Wild Weasel Phantom. My first combat mission was during Desert Storm, suppressing enemy air defenses in and around Baghdad and generally making it safe for the other sorties.”
So why did you give up your wings to become a desk monkey? He could clearly see the question on the president’s face. He could also remember the opening night of Desert storm, smell the fire, feel the shards of glass, hear the screams. Echoes of the same nightmare. Towsley drew in a slow, hopefully inconspicuous breath of air to regain himself.
“An unfortunate medical ailment involving my vision ended my flying days after the Gulf War,” he lied. “So I joined Special Investigations.”
An explosion behind him, the windshield cracks. Towsley throttles to starboard, but no stick. Jack, I’m so sorry . . . oh god, please stop screaming!
The president mulled Towsley’s back story for a moment before turning his attention back to his document.
A pang of anger at the president and his innocent inquiry rose but died quickly. It forced Towsley to recall old ghosts. Recall his flying days. Recall an eight or nine year period during the mid-to-late eighties when he felt that he was most pleased with his life. He was married then, happily, with a young daughter who had no problems talking to her dad about school, and boys, and wearing makeup, and thinking about college instead of the spiteful twenty-six year-old who no longer wanted anything to do with him. His buddy and co-pilot Jack Mitchell was alive then, too. Long before that first night of Desert Storm and the following court martial.
Where was his daughter now? The last he heard from his ex-wife, Sarah was married with a child in Atlanta.
“Internationally siphoned capital?”
Towsley smiled. “You caught that. I don’t know who came up with that polite term, although it’s brash I agree.”
“What percentage of the total cost of Divine Wind was stolen, colonel?”
“I believe in the neighborhood of around thirty to thirty-five percent.”
“From whom exactly did we steal these billions of dollars, and will a trail lead back to the United States?”
“Several Swiss bank accounts of notable enemies of the state were liberated. Terrorist organizations, drug dealers. We’re the reason Edwardo Revenja’s mighty narcotics empire fell and there’s less drugs on our streets. And no, there is no trail leading back to us.”
“Cocaine-funded x-ray lasers,” the president mused with a straight face.
Towsley sipped his coffee, and said, “Evil money baptized into money worth survival.”
“Tell me about this alien you have. It looks like this Caliban is——or was——a scout of some kind. Like a Navy SEAL or Green Beret gathering pre-invasion intelligence.”
“Yes, he was.”
“’He?’ I thought Caliban was both male and female?”
“We address him among ourselves as ‘he.’ We feel it’s a more individualistic pronoun than ‘it.’”
“Does he have emotions?”
Towsley shrugged. “We’re really not sure. At times he appears to have feelings because he doesn’t feel like talking on some days. That could mean depression, frustration . . . anything. Would you like to meet him now?”
Towsley was not surprised by a long, uneasy pause before the Commander-in-Chief curtly replied, “Sure.”
The president noted the APIS had security well concentrated on the bottom most level of the base where the alien was being detained in Containment Unit Three, one of five in the Containment Area wing. Each of these rooms was sealed off from the rest of the complex and accessed only by a heavily guarded, steel door. With a phalanx of armed, stoic guards and mighty steel barriers, they meant business down here, he thought.
The president and his three Secret Service agents approached the first entrance into the Containment Area with Colonel Towsley in the lead. A guard there saluted and unlocked the heavy door with a coded series of numbers on a wall panel. The barrier opened with a buzz and revealed a circular room with five numbered doors along the wall. Another guard armed with an MP-5 submachine gun sat near door Three.
“I have to remind you, Mr. President, Caliban is not the most handsome fellow in the universe and his appearance might be a bit overwhelming at first. I wouldn’t let that bother you, though.”
“I understand,” the president replied, his heart racing.
Towsley walked up to CU Three and placed his face in front of a retinal-scanner. After the laser sweep, he typed a coded series of numbers on a side panel. A beep sounded, and the door clicked open. They followed the armed guard into a small room with a long desk flushed against the opposite wall under a long pane of glass. A balding man wearing lab whites sat at the desk, moving his hands and fingers in a display of sign language. On the other side of the glass lay another dimly lit room where a nightmare figure stood in the center.
The president felt goose bumps rise, and his breathing quickened. For some reason, he was expecting the creature to be relatively average in height, if not smaller.
Caliban stood over seven feet tall.
It had two arms and two legs like a human, but any additional similarities to the human anatomy ceased there. The skin resembled tight, shiny, black leather, giving the creature a creepy, sadomasochistic appearance. The president counted six clawed fingers on each hand and three toes per foot. The alien had a rather large head and a protruding, lipless mouth full of prominent teeth. So far, the creature didn’t look as if it were endowed with any intelligence. It looked rather unintelligent, but still savage and mysterious in its own way . . . that was until the president noticed its enormous pair of eyes. They were incredibly striking, almost human-like. There was intelligence there. He could see it in the way the creature moved its eyes and how it effortlessly responded to the man’s sign language.
Additional proof of the creature’s intelligence came in the form of several colored pastel drawings that wallpapered the alien’s cell. None of them displayed any natural portrayal of identifiable objects that he could tell. The drawings appeared rather abstract expressionist——intense complementary colors, flattening of space, little shading. They seemed to be the expression of a being unwilling to reveal its soul, as blank as the look on the creature’s face.
Caliban interrupted his end of the conversation and watched the president approach the desk, apparently astonished by this new face.
“Hello, doctor,” Towsley said. “I’m sure you recognize our guest.”
Dr. Bennings stood up to shake the president’s hand. “I sure do. I voted for you.”
“Thank you,” he replied without expression, staring through the glass.
“Mr. President, I would like you to meet Caliban. I’ll introduce you.” Bennings turned to the glass and signaled in ASL.
Caliban turned his head to the president and signaled a response.
“He says ‘hello,’” Towsley translated.
In the middle of its cell, Caliban sat down in a metal recliner which looked like it had been specifically padded to conform to the alien’s bony back. The chair had a large Dell laptop computer mounted on a swivel arm, an NHL playoff game incredulously playing on the monitor. Blackhawks-Kings, he noted. A sealed door on the opposite wall of Caliban’s cubical provided access to another chamber. The men sat down at the desk.
“You allow him to surf the web and watch TV?” the president asked.
“He’s unable to upload or download, and our security VI prevents him from hacking or blogging. We installed it to cure his boredom a few years ago which was beginning to cause psychosis and physical illness. He is in solitary confinement after all. Plays a mean game of chess, too.”
“How are you today?” Towsley signaled to Caliban, speaking simultaneously so that the president could stay in the conversation. Towsley relayed Caliban’s reply to the president. “I am content today, Towsley-person.”
“’Towsley-person?’” the president asked.
“He sometimes uses the tag ‘person’ to refer to us. After all these years, he still has trouble distinguishing between male and female. Since Caliban’s a hermaphrodite, he has no distinction of gender. So he addresses everyone by the word ‘person.’ He’s also a little inept when it comes to proper sentence construction, so he talks like the Indians in those old B-movie westerns. You can still understand him, though.” Towsley continued the conversation. “Do you wish to talk with ‘superior-person’ today?”
Caliban’s eyes moved to the president, studying him very closely. The president felt more chills worm up his back.
The alien remained still, silent, only its eyes moving.
“Caliban, do you want to——?”
The alien immediately signaled. “Yes, I will talk to superior-person.”
“Is there anything you would like to ask, sir?”
The president cleared his throat. “Where are you from?”
Towsley translated: “I am from Realm of birth.”
“Excuse me?” the president asked.
“As far as we can tell from the coordinates he’s drawn for us, it appears he’s from a star system we call Mu Cygni in the constellation Cygnus. It’s a binary star system about seventy-one light-years away. We’re not sure if that’s the correct system, however. Anyway, Caliban always refers to his home as ‘Realm of birth.’”
The president continued. “Why are you here?”
Caliban turned his head slightly. “Caliban caught by Towsley-person.”
“No, I mean why are your people coming here?”
“We’ve asked him that before, Mr. President, but we never get a response. I’ll relay your question anyway.”
Caliban waited for Towsley’s translation. When he finished, the creature turned to the “superior-person,” and its gaze darted across the president’s face. Other than that, Caliban remained still.
“What do you call yourselves? Do you have a name?”
“We are Merge-people.”
“’Merge-people,’ as far as we can tell,” Bennings said, “means ‘people full of curiosity,’ wanting to merge or exchange knowledge.”
“Do you mean us harm?” the president asked.
“I doubt he’ll answer that one either,” Towsley said, translating. After Caliban signaled a response, Towsley translated——rather slowly, with a little perplexity in his voice. “Humanity has no touch of harm.”
Towsley and Bennings gave each other curious looks.
“What is it?” the president asked.
“Caliban just responded to a question we’ve been pounding him with for over ten years,” Bennings replied.
The colonel murmured, “Are we recording this, doc?”
“Yes, we are. I just put in a new flash drive an hour ago.”
“Caliban?” Towsley asked, taking over the conversation. “What do you mean by your last answer?”
“Humanity has no touch of harm, no touch of harm, touch not there.”
“Is he saying that we don’t understand the meaning of harm?” Bennings asked.
“I think so. Caliban, what is ‘harm?’”
“Harm is . . . not there, harm is gone.”
“Damn it, Caliban, talk to me,” Towsley mumbled to himself. “Caliban, you have to explain more ‘harm meaning.’”
The alien looked to the floor of its cell, apparently concentrating, then, “Harm is gone.”
“Do Merge-people have touch of harm?”
“Does humanity have touch of harm?”
“Does harm mean hurt?”
“Yes, harm hurt.”
“Caliban, humanity has hurt.”
“No . . . harm gone, not there.”
“He obviously feels that humans don’t understand emotions or feel pain.”
“It probably means more than that,” Bennings suggested. “He probably feels we aren’t equal to him. That we’re just lowly animals. Sounds like the ‘Aryan Race theory’ we proposed a few years back.”
The president could almost see the alien’s perspective. No one could argue that humans were equal to a highly-evolved alien civilization. One would think that they would regard humans in the same way humans looked at chimpanzees or dolphins——intelligent and self-aware, perhaps, but nowhere near the level of cognition present in the higher beings. But Caliban viewed humanity even lower than that. Humans were just detestable spiders on a sidewalk to crush underfoot.
Towsley continued the conversation. “Why are Merge-people coming here?”
The alien stood and slowly approached the glass like a cat sneaking up on a wounded mouse. He approached the president in an obvious stalking manner.
Towsley and Bennings reacted by unslouching themselves in their seats. The president scooted his chair back from the desk, watching the towering figure step closer. The guard and the three Secret Service agents at the back of the room stepped forward toward the president, the guard clicking off the safety to his MP5 submachine gun.
“Caliban?” Towsley replied, trying to distract him, but the alien’s eyes were fixed on the president. “Caliban?”
The creature’s breath steamed the glass, and he brought his hands up to signal.
“Merge knowledge?” Towsley asked, his own hand signals racing.
“What did he say?”
“He asked, ‘I wonder if superior-person would like to merge.’”
Caliban’s gaze returned to the president. “No knowledge, merge, merge.”
“‘Merge’ does not mean ‘to exchange knowledge,’ does it? What does it mean?”
Caliban continued to stare. The president’s hands were now trembling. “Caliban already too much talk. No more.” With that, the alien returned to its recliner.
The president stepped out of the Containment Area and headed for the elevator, rejoined by his Secret Service agents. He tried to breathe normally, but it felt like he had just ran the four hundred meter dash.
“Mr. President,” Towsley called after him. “I’m sorry if Caliban frightened you. He does that sometimes when he’s upset or depressed.”
The president stopped and turned to the colonel. “What did he mean by ‘I wonder if superior-person would like to merge?’ What the hell was that all about? Does ‘merge’ mean to exchange knowledge? If not, then what does it mean?” The president shook his head. “I don’t like the sound of ‘merge.’ I didn’t like the way that son-of-a-bitch said it to me either.”
“Sir, everything is all right.”
”No, everything is not all right.” The president turned for the elevator at the end of the corridor, trying to make sense of the horrible day he was having. “Everything is not all right,” he repeated with a whisper.
After the president left the NESSTC, Towsley ordered Bennings to pick up the conversation where it had ended rather awkwardly. The alien had indicated something important, but neither men knew if Caliban had been telling the truth. The alien’s ambiguous comment about the “merge” suggestion meant something, and Towsley wanted Bennings to dig up clues as to the exact meaning.
Like the president, he didn’t like the implication of “merge” either, so when he looked up the word in his thesaurus, “merge” had four analogous words, all of which Caliban understood: “unite,” “blend,” “coalesce,” and “absorb.” Towsley paused at the word “absorb.” Were the invaders going to eat us? That motive was a conventional device in sci-fi movies and a famous Twilight Zone episode in particular.
Nonsense. But, Towsley had trouble trying to distinguish between reality and illusion, because this idea of Man as a food source did have merit. Humans were omnivorous. Why not extraterrestrials? Perhaps the aliens discriminated humans as nothing more than cattle. Farfetched and silly, perhaps, but a certain legitimacy floated there with the absurdities.
Caliban’s use of the word merge could mean anything really. Perhaps the aliens were not interested in the nutritional value of human flesh, but something else entirely. Whatever that was, though, raised dangerous stakes. If Caliban felt that humanity had “no touch of harm,” or no equivalence to himself, then “merge” meant something clearly detrimental to humanity’s welfare.
Towsley wanted answers and wanted them now. If it meant refusing food and water as a means to get the replies, then he would do it. It wouldn’t be the first time Towsley had ordered this last ditch effort, but it never got them anywhere. Whenever Caliban was forced to fast, his two hundred and eighty pound frame would drop to a dangerously anorexic two hundred and thirty, and a strange white mucus would cover the creature’s skin like sweat. During these times, Caliban still would resist and meander into a deep depression: avoiding communication, not moving from his recliner for days, issuing those eerie throaty sounds that Dr. Bennings still couldn’t identify. Caliban had become more and more reluctant to speak to Towsley after his coerced fasting, but still enjoyed talking with Bennings, probably because the anthropologist always protested Towsley’s harsh treatment of Caliban in front of the alien.
Which was another thing that irritated Towsley. Dr. Bennings treated the creature as if it were an old college buddy. At first, the colonel figured that the doctor was simply playing Good Cop to get answers. As time went on, however, Towsley noticed the doctor’s I-can-be-a-nice-guy act was no ploy. He actually admired the creature like a lonely old maid who loved her cocker spaniel.
Towsley stepped out of his office to get a cup of coffee from the galley. The bizarre conversation with Caliban had numbed him, and he needed a caffeine jolt to juice his brain. He hoped Bennings could unearth some answers. Towsley would be leaving for George Air Force Base later today to hook up with the rest of his team and wanted some pertinent information in advance. Caliban was their only——dare he think the word——hope. So many questions.
Caliban had better damn well cooperate.
Dr. Bennings sat down at the desk and looked through the glass. Caliban rested in his recliner, making that soft, eerie sound of his, which reverberated like a cross between a ghostly moan and a cat’s meow. Bennings had asked the creature before to explain the sounds, but the alien always refused to answer that question. Perhaps they were Caliban’s way of crying or whimpering. He only did it when he appeared to be depressed.
Of course, it was difficult to discern Caliban’s emotional state since his facial movements were different than a human’s. Bennings had been able to identify a few expressions, though, over the years. When Caliban seemed content, he uttered little throaty clicks like a dolphin. When confused, his eyes widened and he gnashed his large teeth. However, the most memorable and disturbing emotion Caliban expressed was anger. The creature’s eyes would narrow and his claw’s wiggle which seemed to be a sign that the alien wanted to attack. Caliban had been furious only three times in the past and all during Towsley’s presence——a sign of the alien’s attitude toward the colonel. Caliban would slam his huge fists down on his recliner like a sulking child. The recliner had been Towsley’s idea, and that association was Caliban’s way of assaulting him.
Bennings also noticed Caliban liked to study his human captors as well, which always gave Towsley the creeps. Bennings saw it simply as a sign of curiosity, a trait possessed by any sentient, intelligent creature. Caliban really had nothing else to do anyway but draw with his pastels or watch his captors walk in and out of his observation room every day. For instance, Caliban learned to recognize a person’s emotional state whether that person was Bennings, any one of his assistants, Towsley, or one of the guards. Bennings had lost track of the number of times when Caliban asked why he was confused, angry, or happy. The alien also liked to play mind games, learning a human’s response to different remarks, and knew how to find someone’s buttons and hammer down on them. A few years ago, Towsley had been pressing the alien with the “Why-are-you-here?”-question when Caliban suddenly stood up and defecated on the floor in front of the window, even though the creature knew how to use the toilet built into its recliner. Towsley had made a bewildered expression, and Caliban’s throat clicked with mischievous glee at the colonel’s reaction. Bennings simply learned that Caliban associated feces with abhorrence and worthlessness the same way humans did. Towsley, however, felt Caliban’s actions were pointless and didn’t see any important significance in it. “Interstellar communication in the form of a turd,” Towsley had mumbled.
Bennings raised his hands and signaled, Why are you sad?
Caliban lately upset.
Do not know. Maybe miss babies?
You miss your babies?
Yes, miss babies. Can Caliban visit babies?
Bennings wasn’t sure if he should tell the alien that all of its offspring were dead and currently residing in jars of formaldehyde. The doctor, of course, always protested these dissections which Colonel Towsley ordered, because he felt it was necessary to observe Caliban’s parental responsibilities. Caliban seemed willing to rear its young like mammals on Earth, even though the creature had never been given the chance. This wasn’t the first time Caliban wanted to see his infants.
This poor creature had genuine feelings. Bennings noticed that years ago, and he seemed to be the only human who cared. Towsley and Taggart just wanted answers, but Bennings felt it was more important to understand what was going on inside Caliban’s brain. That was the real goal here, not frivolous answers and constant prodding. Being honest had to be the key.
Pondering that, Bennings decided it was time to tell Caliban the truth. You cannot see your babies, Caliban . . . because they are dead.
The alien sat up in its recliner. Caliban widened his eyes and gnashed his teeth. He looked around his cell, as if something there could tell him a reason why. How?
They were exterminated. By order of Towsley.
Caliban remained still for a moment. Then he began to moan ghostly whimpers.
I am sorry, Caliban. You know it was not my idea. I would never agree to something like that.
Yes, I know.
I truly am sorry. I can imagine how you feel. I have babies too.
Suddenly, Caliban changed his demeanor so quickly that Bennings was caught completely off guard. How is Anthony-person and Michelle-person?
Bennings had talked about his two children before with Caliban but had addressed them by name only once, and that had been years ago. Ever since, Caliban referred to them only as “Richard-person babies.” That is until now. Anthony and Michelle are fine.
They still breathe?
Yes, Caliban, they still breathe.
Why do they still breathe and Caliban-babies not?
Because Towsley wants to see how Caliban-people can be killed. Caliban has a right to be angry.
I am not angry. Only sad. Too sad to be angry.
Richard liked babies. He did not want them hurt.
Caliban got out of his recliner and paced around his cell. If there was some new emotion here, Bennings couldn’t read it. Caliban did not whimper or twitch his claws, his facial movements still. Caliban have another baby soon.
Bennings nodded. Caliban gave birth every sixteen months, and it had been nearly thirteen months since the last delivery. Already, he could make out Caliban’s baby-bump.
Caliban afraid. Do not want to have baby.
This baby will live. Richard will fight Towsley.
Towsley-person is too strong.
Richard will become stronger.
Caliban will kill baby.
Bennings felt that response tug him in the gut. No, Caliban, you will not kill your baby.
Would rather kill baby than let Towsley-person.
Let Richard-person talk to Towsley.
Caliban began to moan again, and Bennings fought the urge to do the same. He felt drained of energy, frustrated that he couldn’t do anything, a helpless owner watching its pet suffer. This creature was light-years from home on a strange and violent world, lonely and afraid, and it simply wanted kindness. Despite the apparent hostile intentions of his people, Caliban himself seemed compassionate, empathetic and no more threatening than a mischievous dog.
The alien noticed Bennings’ look, and said, Do not be sad for Caliban.
I cannot help it.
It will be over soon. Do not be sad.
What will be over soon?
Caliban looked up at the ceiling, and his eyes fluttered. Caliban will kill self. Somehow.
No, you do not want to do that.
Yes. Nothing here but sad.
What can I do to make you happy?
The alien paused for a moment, then, Nothing Richard-person can do to make happy. Except let Caliban go.
Towsley will not let that happen.
If Towsley will not let that happen, then Richard cannot prevent Caliban-baby from death.
Listen to me.
Caliban no more talk. Kill self now. Know a way. With that, the alien moved under the fluorescent lamp, jumped up with amazing quickness and smashed the light out. The cell went dark.
The alien was going to electrocute himself. “No!” Bennings stumbled out of his chair and went for the door. He hit the emergency alarm button on the wall and raced out of the room.
The guard outside stood there with his MP5 ready, shouting over the alarm into his radio. “We have an emergency down in the Containment Area! Response Teams One and Two report to CA immediately!”
Bennings opened the Containment Area entrance, then fumbled with his glasses sliding off nose.
“What’s going on, sir?”
“Caliban’s going to kill himself!” Bennings approached the laboratory entrance and let the retinal-laser scan him before typing his PI number into the side panel. The door slid open, and Bennings and the guard stepped into the lab.
“Doc, what are you going to do?”
“I’m not going to let Caliban kill himself!” Bennings approached another door that led to the circular hallway surrounding the five containment units.
“Sir, you can’t go in there without a bio-suit!” the guard screamed. “Don’t open the door!”
Bennings typed his PI number, and the door slid open to reveal the decontamination chamber. He smelled ammonia and disinfectants from the shower heads before he ran around the circular corridor and slid to a halt at a sealed doorway marked CONTAINMENT UNIT 3——RESPONSE TEAMS REQUIRED BEYOND THIS POINT. As he came to the last digit of his PI number, a warning light suddenly flared in his head. The Foolish Scientist Syndrome had struck, and its first target was rational thought.
Oh Jesus, what are you doing? He jerked his fingers off the keypad like he had received an electric shock but had already pressed lucky number seven. The pneumatic motors inside the wall engaged. Bennings immediately froze, and the door hissed open, the musty odor of an animal in captivity reaching his nostrils. Caliban smelled just like the gorillas Bennings used to communicate with.
The room was dim, barely lit from the observation room lights. Bennings whispered into the dark, “Caliban?”
“Doctor, please come back!” the guard hollered from the lab.
Bennings heard something else. In front. To the left.
A shuffling sound——and suddenly there was a whoosh of motion. Bennings backed up, felt something tug the front of his shirt as he did. A snake-like hiss punctuated with an inhuman roar pierced the air. Bennings jumped from the terrifying sound and felt something bump his stomach where the shadow had touched him. What he saw baffled him. His mind playing tricks? His large intestine had been ripped from his gut, his blue jeans now purple.
At that sorry moment, Bennings realized what Caliban had done. Not the vicious surgery the alien had just performed, but to everyone else over the years. The alien duped them all——the depressions, the concern for his infants, the act of kindness he displayed at times, his particular liking for Bennings——all a fantastic deception. Bennings fell for it like a trusting child to candy. He knew he would be the first of many to pay the consequence.
Immense anger tore through him. He brought his hands up, not to defend but to attack. He was going to tear Caliban’s unborn infant from its stinking womb. A huge shadow reared up in front of him, and he gasped when his palms pressed against the alien’s chest——its skin warm and sweaty, a creature alive and full of rage.
Humans are such easy prey, Caliban signaled in the dim light.
The alien propelled forward like a darting fish and bit Bennings’s throat out.
Towsley bounced off the wall, stumbling, as he rounded the corner toward the Containment Area. One of the Response Team guards grabbed him by the arm and balanced him to his feet.
When he arrived at the Containment Area, he saw the teams were already there, MP5’s at their sides. “Cover the lab!” he ordered.
“All of the doors have been sealed, sir.”
“Do it anyway!”
He trotted into the observation room where three guards stood, flashlights pointing at the window into Caliban’s cell. He smelled vomit. One of the guards had retched in the corner.
The alien stood next to its recliner, its eyes glowing yellow from the flashlight beams. Bennings’s body lay at Caliban’s feet, the man’s head nearly decapitated to the vertebrae, internal organs exposed.
“Oh Christ, no,” Towsley murmured.
Towsley-person upset. Too bad.
“What happened?” Towsley asked the guard at the doorway.
“Bennings hit the alarm and ran to the lab. He said the alien was going to kill itself. I tried to stop him, sir.”
“It’s all right, sergeant.” He turned back to the glass. Caliban, why did you do this?
The alien approached the window, squatted, and defecated on the floor. Towsley nodded his head, knowing this was Caliban’s charming and eloquent way of saying “Fuck you.”
Caliban, we no longer have any use for you. You know that don’t you?
Give me best shot.
“Pull the plug, sir,” one of the guards begged with a whisper.
He was referring to the thirty-gram canister of VT nerve agent in the ceiling of Caliban’s cell. All Towsley had to do was be retinal-scanned for computer-clearance and push a button. VT, created secretly by Army scientists, was an aerosol of the V-series of nerve agents similar to Sarin and VX and the first true “gas” of that class, the others actually being liquids. It was determined to be the most deadly synthetic nerve agent ever produced, so lethal in fact that the powers that be, typically stoic and fearless of any weapon of mass destruction, refused to authorize its mass production because it simply scared the hell out of them. The APIS possessed the only VT in existence, the only earthly substance found to kill aliens. It was thought that a mere ten milligrams per cubic meter could kill a human in just five seconds. It had taken 50 milligrams to kill one of Caliban’s infants in the same amount of time.
“Did you say the doors have been sealed?” Towsley asked.
“Yes, sir. All units.”
Towsley brought his hands up and said, Goodbye, Caliban. He was about to turn and head for the lab to deliver the coup de grâce when he saw Caliban raise his right hand to show that he had something in his palm. The VT canister.
One of the flashlights pointed to the cell’s ceiling and highlighted the compartment where the alien had ripped the device out just moments ago.
I have known about bad-can for long time. Too bad, Towsley-person.
The question of how the alien knew about the VT ran through Towsley’s mind, but he quickly answered it——Bennings. If the doctor had told Caliban that he was unhappy with Towsley’s attitude toward the alien, then it was also likely he had informed the alien about the VT. Caliban could smash the window and ram the canister’s Tetrytol detonator down on a hard surface, releasing swift death throughout the entire complex. But did the alien have the strength to actually smash the glass, which was reinforced with tungsten fiber? If the guards tried to gun Caliban down, shattering the glass in the process, the alien’s redundant nervous system would still allow the alien a few precious seconds to set off the detonator.
Stalemate, Towsley-person. Caliban will breathe little longer. We have lots of talk coming.
I do not want to talk anymore. Our understanding is over.
That is fine. Caliban finally enjoying self here. Been very long since happy.
“What are we going to do, sir?”
Towsley looked down at Bennings’ corpse. “Open doors CU Three and Four, and allow Caliban to enter the other unit so we can get Bennings’s body out.” Will Caliban let humans clean your cell? Go to another cell in the meantime?
Yes. Will take bad-can with Caliban, though. Richard will stink. Like clean cell.
Towsley stepped out of the room. Major Forrester, commanding officer of the NESSTC’s Response Team security force, followed him.
“Sir, after we get Doc Bennings’ body out, we can have a Response Team suit up in the anti-chem gear and go in with the doors sealed behind them. We’ll terminate the alien there, and if he pops that VT, we’ll just suck the bad air into the compression tanks.”
“Only the individual containment cells are sealed for chemical pollutants, major. Not the access into the Containment Area itself. There was no reason for it to be. If Caliban smashes that window, which I think isn’t as strong as advertised, then the entire base will get zapped.”
“Sir, I suggest we risk it.”
“Risk it? We don’t have enough anti-chem suits for everyone.”
“But I’m sure that——“
”For Christ’s sake, major, give me awhile to think. I’ll have an answer for you in one hour.”