Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Story 213: The Welcome Committee

The mound of strange electronics on the table, with its tangle of wires and tubes, reminded Mayor Cynthia Green a little too much of the abomination.  She adjusted the grey knit cap she had been told to wear and tried to think of something pleasant.  She failed.

Her brain was entirely occupied with the colossal twisted mass of tentacles and eyes ten miles away on the beach.  Her beach.  It had appeared without warning, unfolding in the air while emitting a glowing light of a color she had never seen before and never wanted to see again.  Everyone could feel it inside their minds, this disgusting otherworldly presence that Mayor Green could only describe as "like a crusty boat oar made from living cockroaches being driven through my skull" when the mysterious agents arrived.

They said they were with the government.  She wasn't totally convinced, but the hat they had put on her head made the feeling go away - it had weakened after the initial rush, when the thing finished appearing and collapsed into an unholy pile on the sand, but it was still there in the back of her head until she put that ridiculous beanie on.  And the special agents had helped with the evacuation, too, so whether or not they were with the government wasn't her top concern.

"Will this thing kill it?" she asked, looking again at the electronic parts.  Some of it reminded her of medical equipment as well, like an ambulance had crashed into a Radio Shack.  The agent nearest her looked around as if trying to decide if he should ask for permission to answer her, and when he didn't see whoever he was looking for he gave up and replied.
"No.  Actually, this should help us talk to it."
"Why do you want to talk to it?  It's pure evil!"
"Yes, ma'am.  We're aware.  I assure you we don't intend to make friends with it, but we may still be able to learn something.  You felt what it was like to have psychic contact with it?  Well, this will let us talk to it without letting it actually touch our minds."

Cynthia felt it would be better to just drop a bomb on it, even if it did mean she ended up being mayor of a toxic crater, but she didn't feel equipped to argue about it.  She settled for shrinking away into a corner until suddenly the device squawked to life.

"Gnípla philka bladíl am seiubn? Oup philka xsclant? Dhur líthult uyg tiu lírd dhíck."
The voice came from speakers sitting at one end of the table, and despite the bad sound quality the alien syllables made Mayor Green shiver.  Agents swarmed around the table adjusting knobs and looking at readouts.
"Can you hear me?  I'm here representing the inhabitants of this world and would like to talk to you."
There was some crackling, and a sound like walking through thick mud, and then a deep voice.
"Yes.  Hello?  Is this better?"
Everyone around the table shared a look, though Cynthia couldn't tell if it was a good look or a bad one.
"Yes, much.  Thank you.  Can we ask what your intentions are on our world?"
"Ah.  Well at the moment I'm actually having some difficulty.  I could really use your assistance."
This had to be wrong, Cynthia thought.  This couldn't be the voice of that unnatural thing on the beach.
"And how would we be able to assist you?"
"Well you could send some sacrifices, for one.  I got distracted, and all the mortals ran away.  They're all out of range, sadly, and so I can't make them come down and climb into my mouth.  I could chase them down if I weren't so hungry... so you see my problem.  I just need a little something to get me going, and then I'm sure I could take care of myself."

Cynthia revised her prior assessment.  That sounded more like a hideous monster from outside of time and space.
"We aren't prepared to let you eat anyone.  That's really a deal breaker for us."
"You should be coming down here yourself!  Why aren't you feeling my... am I on speakerphone?"
"Er... so to speak?"
"Well it's your word, not mine.  I don't even know what a 'speakerphone' literally is.  Just.. look.  This would go so much better with a direct mind to mind contact."
"We aren't prepared to do that either."
"COME ON!" the voice whined, sounding a little scary but mainly like a petulant child.  "I tried to do it right, tried to show up looking like something that would strike fear into your pathetic mortal brains.  But - and this is in no way my fault - you people have no concept of your own physics!  You think something this big and slimy can just scramble around eating you?  Obviously not!  I'm structurally unsound!  My physiology is absurd, frankly, and now I'm too weak from falling all over myself to change shape!  Couldn't you have pictured something with a better design?  What's with all these tentacles?  And the eyes!  They're just... sprinkled around!  I'm staring at parts of myself I can't even locate.  What possible purpose do they serve?"
"I see your problem.  Hang on, we're going to see what we can do."

The agents flipped a switch and went into a huddle, whispering furiously.
Cynthia cleared her throat.  "I know you already said this, but… you're not planning on actually helping it.  Right?"
They seemed to come to some kind of conclusion, and flipped the switch again.
"Thanks for waiting," one said, "while we can't send humans down there right now we do have some other life forms.  Could you eat fish or dogs or something?"
"Maybe.  I suppose it could tide me over.  It should really be something with language."
"Gotcha.  Good to know."  They all took turns nodding, and then one looked at Cynthia and winked.  "If your body is causing problems, would it help to chop it apart?"
"It would be difficult for you to cut, and you'd probably melt your skin off with my ichor."
"What about burning it?"
"It's pretty moist.  And that seems reckless."
"What do you mean, reckless?"
There was a string of alien syllables, and then a sigh.  "Look, just come and climb into my… one of my mouths."
"What's wrong with the burning plan?"
"Well I think my internal fluids are flammable.  You might not be able to stop it, and if it gets out of control before I consume a few of you I might perish."
"And you would die entirely, or just go back to where you came from?"
"Well I don't know.  Possibly die for good, like some stinking mortal.  Why do you ask?"

Cynthia watched the agents' van hurtle down the street towards the thing.  The cell phone towers were overwhelmed, but she was sending runners with notes: