Hi everyone, hope you’ve all had a great Friday so far. 🙂
I’m back with the third and last part of Paul Byer‘s excellent SF short story, Annihilation; so far (in part 1) we’ve met the crew of a sub that was tasked with finding and tracking a new and potentially dangerous Chinese sub, (in part 2) they were returning to base, unsuccessful in their mission, whereupon they discovered that Pearl Harbour had been wiped off the map (as well as some other, more mysterious discoveries), and now in Part 3 we get the conclusion. 🙂
Before that, though, I thought I’d post the last of Paul’s guest-blogs, and don’t worry, there’s aren’t any spoilers! 😉
I primarily writer action thrillers but Act of God is a return to my roots, so to speak. I started out writing science fiction and I enjoy the freedom that comes from writing this kind of genre. If I want to make the sky green, then it’s green. If I want to have a massive alien fleet of robotic creatures who want to attack earth because they need our oil, so be it.
Today’s sci-fi audience is much more sophisticated and educated, most having grown up on such sci-fi staples as Star Trek and Star Wars. Nowadays, a writer can take a lot for granted when telling their stories. Everyone has heard of hyperspace or warp drive, phasers, lasers and photon cannons and the concept of faster-than-light travel and beaming is no big deal and doesn’t need to be explained.
The genre of science fiction as evolved from its early beginnings of Buck Rogers and little green men invading earth. Today, the genre has grown and expanded to encompass so much more than just flights into deep space.
With new technologies, the stories have blended with the techno thriller and military themes have relied heavily on technologies and are often woven into sci-fi stories. Touches of fantasy as well as the ever popular use of robots and medical manipulation of DNA have also grown more prominent in today’s science fiction, making it the mainstay of the modern genre.
But whether as a writer you are drawing on proven and known technology or creating your own universe, and whether you boldly go where no man has gone before or create a theme park where no expense has been spared (where the attractions eat the guests) science fiction is a great way to tell great stories.
Annihilation – Part 3
“Officer of the Deck! I’m receiving a signal!” The radio operator called out.
“Locate and identify!” Hollis ordered. “And Collins, go get the Captain!”
Just then Captain Deacon strode into the control room. “No need,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep.” He walked over to the radio station and leaned over the operator. “What have we got?”
“It’s a simple message that’s being rotated on different frequencies in Morse code. Half of it is just random letters, but buried in the middle of all the jumble is a request for acknowledgment.”
“Acknowledge it then.” Deacon ordered.
“Aye sir, acknowledging.”
The entire control room waited for the reply. At last, they might have some answers. The radio operator scribbled down the reply, then turned to the captain.
“I’m sorry sir, but this doesn’t make any sense.”
“The reply. It says: Time: James Bond. Freq: Total inhabitants of Gilligan’s Island and length of cruise. Full count. And that’s it, the transmission has stopped.”
Everyone was puzzled by the riddle. Was someone playing games or was the sender just crazy. Suddenly Captain Deacon snapped his fingers.
“That’s it! It has to be!”
“It’s a recognition code. A specific time and frequency. Something only we would know. During World War Two, if the G.I.’s suspected someone of being a German spy, they would ask them questions only an American would know. Something like who won the World Series or who a famous movie star was. These questions are something only we would know.
“But sir, James Bond and Gilligan’s Island are seen all over the world, not just in the U.S.”
“My point exactly. WE could figure it out because we’re from earth.”
“You mean E.T. sir?” The radio man asked looking at this captain with fear and confusion on his face.
“It’s just a theory, son,” Deacons said to the radio operator, “just a theory.”
Deacon clapped his hands and rubbed them together in anticipation. “Okay, let’s see what we have. James Bond is of course the indomitable 007, so broadcast will be at 0700 tomorrow morning.”
“And there were six castaways on Gilligan’s Island who were on a three-hour tour that stretched into four seasons.” Hollis joined in.
“Excuse me sir, but there were seven castaways.” The radio man said.
“I think the XO is right, there were only six.” One of the engineer mates piped in.
Suddenly the control room of a United States Navy Nuclear Attack Submarine was filled with the sound of men humming the theme song from a 50-year-old television show.
Almost in unison a soft chorus broke out, “…the Professor and Mary Ann, here on Gilligan’s Isle.”
“You’re right Hollis said matter of factly. “I forgot about the Professor.”
Deacon burst out laughing.
“What?” Hollis said.
Deacon just shook his head. “Never mind. Okay, now that we have that settled, the only ‘full count’ I can think of is a three and two in baseball which make five, so the frequency must be 735.”
“Easy for us. But not so easy for whoever is listening.” Deacon said.
“I’m sorry sir, but I’m still having a hard time believing that someone other than inhabitants of good old Earth blew up Pearl.” Abe said.
“I hope I’m wrong too,” Deacon confessed. “It would make it a whole lot easier to deal with if I’m wrong.”
“Amen to that.”
At 0700 the next morning the control room was packed with every man who wasn’t on duty. Deacon thought about clearing the room, but decided against it. They were all in it together and they had a right to know. The room was silent; no one dared make a sound as they waited for the mysterious transmission. Suddenly the radio crackled, and as if scripted in a movie, everyone in the room held his breath.
“Do you copy?” Were the garbled words that came through the speakers.
Deacon picked up the microphone. “We read you. Please identify yourself.”
“Negative! And do not identify yourself. This will be a one minute transmission.”
“We have been out of circulation. Can you tell us what has happened?”
“You’re kidding right?” The voice said in astonishment.
“Negative,” Deacon thought for moment, “we’ve been visiting Dave Jones.”
There was a brief pause. “Understood. The earth is in complete shambles. Forty-three days ago the Ninjas arrived, catching our defenses completely off guard.”
“Sorry, that’s the nickname we gave them because of the black suits they wear. We don’t know what they call themselves or where they came from. The Ninjas are an alien race that has devastated the planet. There are scattered pockets of resistance, but they are few and far between and falling fast.”
“What about the military? Couldn’t they do anything to stop them?”
“The Ninjas knew exactly where and what to hit; we didn’t have a chance. There were a few minor victories, but nothing to stem the flow of the Ninjas.”
“What do they want?” Hollis asked. “Have they made any demands?”
“Demands? Why? They’ve already beaten us. I suggest whoever you are that you find a place to hide and hope they don’t find you. Maybe they’ll take what they want and leave. I will not transmit again. It’s getting too risky for me. Good luck to you! Over and out.”
You could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the control room. Everyone was stunned. The Earth they had left just a few short months ago didn’t exist anymore.
“Chief of the Boat, make depth for 800 feet,” Deacon ordered.
“Aye sir, make depth for 800 feet.”
“Conn, sonar. I just picked up a surface contact! Bearing 287…range 10 miles. It’s a small craft, sir.”
“Belay the last. Helm, reduce speed to five knots, make depth 400 feet, heading 287. Any emissions from the contact?
“Negative sir. It appears to be dead in the water.”
“Very well then, we still need more information so I’m going to take the risk and board her. We’ll move under her at 100 feet then release two teams of divers to board her. You up for a little swim, Abe?” Deacon said looking at his XO.
Hollis smiled. “Yes sir.”
“Good. I want you to lead the boarding party. Pick three volunteers and prepare to depart in one hour.”
“Aye aye, sir!”
Fifty seven minutes later, Hollis led the team of four divers through the LOT (lock out trunk,) a way to enter and exit the submarine while still submerged, from the warmth and security of the Texas and into the unknown of the cold, murky waters of the Pacific. Each member of the team was armed with an M-16/M4 converted assault rifle and the Heckler & Koch HK45 as their sidearm, along with several clips of ammunition in water proof pouches.
Everything looked calm and peaceful as Hollis looked up from fifty feet below the hull, seeing the outline of the ship silhouetted against the surface; but he also knew looks were deceiving. He motioned for two of the divers to go to the starboard side, while he and his partner went up on the port.
As they surfaced, they could see that the ship was a 110 foot Island Class Coast Guard Cutter. Although it was built for the open ocean, Hollis thought it strange to find one this far out at sea, but then after the events of the last few days, nothing surprised him anymore. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, the two teams slipped over the railing and quickly hid in the debris scattered on the deck.
The ship was listing to port and Hollis could see that it was in shambles, having taken quite a beating recently in a storm.
Hollis lay hidden behind the twisted remains of a Zodiac, watching, waiting, listening. Satisfied that the deck was clear and that they hadn’t been spotted, he signaled for two men to go up the starboard side while he covered them. His heart was pounding and his mouth dry as he rested his assault rifle on the Zodiac and watched his men make their way to the superstructure.
He had been in danger before, he had been in the belly of a steel beast, directing 7800 tons of muscle and machine in harm’s way, but this was different, this was personal combat. He was in the thick of it, no electronics, no early warning systems and no inky depths to hide in. Here, he was face to face with danger.
His men reached the stern of the cabin with no trouble and they signaled for him to join them. Taking a deep breath, he nodded to his partner and they made their way as quickly and quietly as they could up the other side of the ship. As he came running up he signaled and the first two members of the team opened the cabin door and Hollis rushed in.
Three steps into the cabin, they were stopped in their tracks by an overwhelming stench that none of them had ever experienced before. Immediately the man beside Hollis threw up, and it was all he could do to keep from doing the same. The room was in as bad a shape as the deck outside; papers, furniture, and other debris were scattered around with puddles of standing water everywhere from broken windows. The room was empty of any human crew but they found three figures lying on the floor, all dressed in black. Ninjas, Hollis thought as he shoved the barrel of his gun into each of the bodies, making sure they were dead.
With the room secured, they split up and searched the rest of the ship. After ten minutes, all reported back that the ship was deserted. No more bodies were found, human or alien.
The men gathered around as Hollis took out a small flashlight to examine the bodies.
They all wore black body suits including a head cover, looking very similar to black wet suits. He could see why the name “Ninjas” had stuck. There were no exposed portions of the alien’s skin except through tears in the suits. Prying up one of the tears, he could see that the skin underneath looked like it had been eaten away, as if acid had been poured onto the flesh.
When Hollis reached down to examine the body more closely, water from his suit trickled down his arm and into one of the tears. Immediately, a reddish-blue foam oozed out of the opening.
“Would you look at that.” Hollis exclaimed. “Brask, go take your mask and bring it back here full of water.”
Brask left the cabin and returned shortly with the full mask. Hollis took the mask and began pouring water into each of the tears on the suit, with the same results: a reddish-blue foam appearing as the water dissolved the alien flesh.
“What do you know?” Hollis said. Water must act as a corrosive on the alien flesh. No wonder they wear these full body suits. “I’m going to call the captain and have him surface the boat and get these bodies on board. They could prove useful later.” As he walked out of the cabin, he found a small case. He opened it and found sheaf’s of papers with what appeared to be alien writing on it. “This could prove to be interesting.” He said as he shoved them inside his wetsuit.
An hour later with the alien bodies in the boat’s freezer, Hollis was sitting with the captain in his cabin.
“That’s quite a report, Abe. Did you get anything from those files you found?”
Hollis shook his head. “A quick glance gave me nothing but I haven’t had any real time to study them yet. But what gets me is if water is so harmful to them, then why go after a planet that’s 75 percent water?”
“Maybe to them, the 25 percent land we do have is a lot, which gives me an idea. Militarily we have been defeated and there’s nothing we can do about that.”
“That’s what’s so frustrating. We have such tremendous firepower aboard this boat and there’s nothing we can do prevent these “Ninjas” from taking over our planet. Maybe we should have polluted it more so they wouldn’t have wanted it.” Hollis said in a faint attempt at humor.
“I’ve been thinking, and maybe there is something we can do.” Deacon replied.
“There’s only one way we can get the Ninjas off our world, and that’s for there to be less of it.”
“Less of it? I don’t understand.”
“We have a full complement of Tomahawk cruise missiles on board, don’t we?”
“We go to maximum range and launch one at the polar ice cap, then run like hell.”
“I don’t understand? What’s at the polar ice cap?”
“Ice. And when the heat of the nuclear explosion hits, it will melt it, thus raising the water level around the world. We’ll create our own global warming. With less land, more potential ‘acid,’ there’s less of a reason for them to stay.”
“That’s quite a gamble sir. Do you know how many people we may drown?”
“I know it’s a risk, but if we don’t do anything at all, I know exactly how many people will be left. None. It’s a gamble all right, a long shot at best, but a long shot is better than none at all. I’m going to take the boat deep and head north. Let’s both get some sleep and see how we feel about it in the morning.”
“Good idea, I’m beat. Good night sir,” Hollis said as he got up and returned to his cabin.
Deacon turned off his lamp and lay in his bunk, a thousand different thoughts running through his mind. He closed his eyes, and tried to relax and get some sleep, but he knew he wouldn’t tonight.
Early the next morning Deacon found his Executive Officer in the galley with a cup of coffee in hand. His eyes were tired and bloodshot and he looked like he hadn’t slept at all.
“You look how I feel,” Deacon said, grabbing a cup of coffee.
“Looked in the mirror lately?” Hollis replied.
“Not much sleep for you either, I see.” Deacon smiled.
“I was up half the night trying to decipher those plans we found. As a kid I always liked solving riddles and crossword puzzles. I even took a couple of classes at the academy in code deciphering. The other half of the night I was thinking about your plan. To tell you the truth I don’t much like it, but I couldn’t come up with a better one. I don’t know, maybe we’re moving too fast. Maybe we should try to raise COMSUBPAC or the civilian authorities first.”
“I’m not crazy about flooding the earth either, but it’s the only way to drive the Ninjas off our planet. The longer we wait the more of them there’ll be. We don’t have time to get confirmation. I did some rough figuring, and I’ll qualify all my answers right now by saying I’m no scientist, but if we melted all the ice at both caps that would raise the sea level between 200 and 250 feet. Even if we got half that amount, say around 100 feet, the results would be catastrophic. Hopefully that would be enough to get the Ninjas to leave.”
“When do we launch?”
“We’ll be in weapons range in about three hours.”
“I don’t have duty until the mid-watch, but I’ll be up when we launch. I think I’ll go back to my puzzle book and see if I can unlock the mysteries of the Ninjas. Don’t launch until I get there please.”
“Good luck.” Deacon nodded then poured himself some more coffee and wished he hadn’t eaten the last doughnut.
Hollis went back to his cabin and began working on the Ninjas’ log book. He really didn’t think he had a hope of deciphering it, but it would keep him busy, and that’s what he needed right now. He began by looking for any words in English, words that the Ninjas might have translated already. Then, he looked for words that were repeated often. He found the word “Earth” several times, followed by the same phrase or one very similar. After two hours he had made little progress. Seeing he had time before the launch, he decided to take a look at the Ninjas themselves, hoping their uniforms might provide a clue. He headed to the ship’s freezer where the bodies were kept.
He took out one of the bodies and slid it onto a service cart. He carefully examined the outside of the suit and found very little that would help him. Next, he cut away the suit to examine the body. He smiled. He felt like one of those CSI investigators on TV as he peeled back the suit. The skin was grayish and had a very coarse texture; it reminded him of the skin of a shark. Several years back he had been snorkeling and had scared a nurse shark off the bottom and it had brushed up against his leg. The shark’s sandpaper-like skin was so rough it had scraped off some of the skin on his leg. This Ninja’s skin felt like that.
He cut away the black suit to examine the rest of the body, but there was not much to see because of all the corrosion caused by the acid of the sea water. He couldn’t tell if it was male or female, with no recognizable organs. Next he tried to examine the hands and feet but they were the most badly corroded. Wanting to clear away some of the loose skin so he could examine the bones, he took a glass of water and poured it into the wound. Nothing happened.
Puzzled because there was no corrosive foam, he did it again, only this time pouring the entire glass on the wound. Still nothing.
Staring intently at the wound, he went to set the empty glass on the counter and it slipped off and fell to the floor. As he reached down to pick it up, his arm dragged across the body bag. When he stood back up, he noticed that there were traces of the reddish-blue foam seeping out of one of the wounds. He noticed that several drops of seawater had dripped from the bag into the wound.
Puzzled, Hollis took a sponge, mopped up some of the excess water then squeezed out over the wound: instantly, the reddish-blue foam appeared. Suddenly the passages in the log book became clear. They were talking about two kinds of water: salt water and fresh water.
A sickening feeling began forming in his stomach. He had noticed earlier some loose skin between the fingers of the Ninjas but thought nothing of it, thinking it was just flesh melted away by the water, but now…. Quickly he moved to tear open the other two body bags. This Ninja’s hands and feet were in worse shape than the first corpse but the third body still had its gloves on. He ripped off the gloves and stared at the hands. The stunning revelation was staring him in the face. That wasn’t just loose skin between its fingers, they were webbed, like a duck’s foot.
The Ninjas didn’t come to Earth because they wanted more land; they came because they wanted more water! Only they hadn’t realized that there was salt water here and that it would act as a corrosive to them. Suddenly a second and even more powerful realization hit him.
He felt faint; the polar ice was fresh water, not salt. If they melted it, it might dilute the salt water enough for the Ninjas to survive. He had to get to the control room and stop the launch. He looked at his watch; he still had a couple of minutes. He ran through the corridors, shouting to stop the launch. He rounded the last hatchway to the control room and tripped just as he entered, hitting his head hard on the metal deck.
Slowly Hollis opened his eyes. His head felt worse than any hangover he’d ever had. Suddenly he remembered. “We’ve got to abort the launch, we can’t launch that missile.”
“Why?” Deacon asked.
“The Ninjas aren’t here for the land; they’re here because we have so much water. They don’t have salt water on their planet so they didn’t know our oceans would be dangerous to them. They need fresh water. If we melt the ice cap the fresh water will dilute the salt water enough so they can survive. If we melt the ice, we will be dooming the earth instead of saving it.”
Deacon stumbled and fell back on the floor as if an unseen prize fighter had delivered a roundhouse punch. “You’ve been unconscious for the past half hour,” Deacon stammered; “we launched five minutes ago.”
🙂 What an ending, huh? I zipped through Annihilation when I received it from Paul; from the beginning I enjoyed the setting (thank Tom Clancy for that) and I knew that -considering where the story took place- there would be plenty of tension, and I wasn’t wrong – I like the way the tale builds, as Paul doles out the information piece by piece, gradually building an alarming picture, and I also liked the characters and how they interacted. The scene where Deacon is complaining about the apparent lack of donuts had me chuckling. 🙂 This tale also reminded me of the SF episodes of The Outer Limits in that it was well-balanced between the characters, the building tension, and the way it made me curious. If Annihilation is anything to go by -and I’m sure it is- then Paul’s collection, Act of God, will be highly enjoyable, surprising and imaginative. 🙂 Excellent tale!
To order your copies of Act of God, click here for Amazon US, and do check out Paul’s site for more info on him and his work. Since today is National Buy a Book Day (in the USA, at least, though I’m sure it’ll grow to be a world-wide event!)
Logo by Clifton Hill
go ahead and treat yourself (and Paul) to a copy of Act of God, or two or three (why not?) for SF-loving friends. 🙂
I’d like to sincerely thank Paul for allowing me to host and post Annihilation – it was well worth it! 🙂
Until next time,