War and manufactured science…how often do these two rub shoulders, and with what disastrous consequences! I need not remind you that few technologies have been so widespread as the gun, and that while alchemy has turned nothing as yet to gold, we have splendid results from gunpowder. Indeed (though it needed no crown of research), even the primitive pike, such as speared the heads of a certain Vlad’s enemies once upon a time, was the result of careful study and, I find it likely, many ancient researchers in trailing white frocks.
Never does it surprise us, then, when a blazing cannon drops fire on the battlefield. So why, when a similar bomb hurtles through a lab, are we suddenly so shocked? Why does it seem as unnatural as going from death to life?
Something startlingly like a bomb streaked past the vent, and Jaw was there, peering into the hall, to see it. It whizzed away, sparking a flashback, brief and instant, and a feeling of “here we go again.”
Its trail of smoke now clogged the ceiling of this grey hall, triggering one of the omnipresent sirens, which screamed and turned the hall from gray to red, as the sirens were wont to do. A door, normally pinned shut by a titanic combination of keypad passcodes, laser eye recognition, and deadbolts, was wrenched open to loose three football teams’ worth of monster-hunting guards, who charged in all directions (left and right).
Jaw quickly lost track of the action. From far off in one direction, he heard an explosion whose iconic sound could only be called “picturesque.” Everywhere else, he heard barking commands, some of them literal barks, and the flurry of weapons with their deathmaking doom. Most of their cybernetic futurestuff was beyond his comprehension, but what mattered was, this was war; he did not need to be told.
What mattered was, somewhere in that chaos, there was a chorus of cries much unlike a soldier’s, unlike a werewolf’s, in fact unlike any civilian’s…unless those civilians had shrimpy voices, being very tiny.
He slipped out from the vent, from the wall, quite ghostily, and followed that urge to become a saving angel. Call it foolhardy, call it making up for past mistakes—or simply say that it answered the call.
Jaw whipped the invisible doughboy helmet out from his invisible backpack as he ran. He set the intangible hat on his intangible head, and it did not fall through. He dashed into the backs of warriors, and a mess of mottled brown and black and red like flames passed around, into, beyond his eyes…and then he reached the clearing, if it could be called that.
He came into the relatively empty space ruined by a prior bomb blast, into which their guns were now pointed, into which a bat and its bizarre passengers had fallen, wings and clothes charred. Also, more bizarrely, next to that bat was an unharmed flowerpot with some writhing blue mushrooms in it. Great, just when he had thought a tiny bat with tiny animal people was hard enough to process. What were those mushrooms? A biokinetic 31st-century living mine? The shark-wolf could hardly guess, but they looked important.
The previous paragraph transpired in about half a second; in the next half-second, Jaw ladled all four of these characters into his invisible, intangible hands—which turned them all similarly invisible and intangible—reared his foot back, and punted them sideways into a neighboring room. In that same moment, the guards’ laser rifles converged on Jaw’s grounded invisibankle, leaving not a wound nor scarcely even a tickle.
He turned to face the enemy line. (One of the enemy lines, for there was another party, not distant for long, coming into the hallway from behind. But let us allow Jaw to concentrate on as few as he can.) Had he known a smidgen more about this century, he would have gathered that these guards were quick thinkers; suspecting some invisible play, the fighters in front de-pocketed their ghost goggles and telescopes while the troops behind them unveiled spirit-hitting plasma blasters.
What mattered, however, was gumption against gumption.
Jaw knew it was time to crush his own moon, dispel the werewolf to become full shark. This mattered not because it changed his arsenal, but because it was the way he most loved to be—and he now felt free to go berserk.
The labs in this corridor were empty, for the most part, but reader, let our attention drift to the one right beside Jaw, wherein new visitors had abruptly arrived.
To the dark lab, stubbornly dark, with no windows on the walls. The window in the door may as well not have existed, for what little light it actually admitted; the red light of the emergency siren, once overwhelming, was as minor and stifled as a television glow.
The quiet lab, ironically quiet, for it fed the Flutoidan plan. Its dinner platters were petri dishes, and the sounds of the rustling molecules—such infinitesimal sounds!—those were the end-of-dinner bells, death rattles for the ways of an alien world.
The witness lab. Cold witness! Give it a mouth to speak, and ears to hear, and an eye to see the arcoiris laser now firing from Jaw’s mouth, turning a red hall to every color under the sun, and do you reckon it would know what valor it had seen? Do you reckon it would say “bravo?”
Certain heroes, however, would watch the window feeling much bewildered.
Robert, Alice, and Bistritz had skidded into the middle of a chloroceramic-tile floor; the mushroom pot had cracked apart a few inches away, but posed no present threat, for an inch was a mighty distance now. Robert and Alice had risen onto their shins; Bistritz, his invisibility flickering, was trying to rise, but resembled a fallen and storm-beaten tent.
They all watched the window for a while, tantalized.
“What do you suppose that is?” said Robert, voice as calm as though this were a picnic.
“Probably an ally we haven’t met yet,” said Alice.
Robert hummed appreciatively. “That’s beautiful, Alice.”
“That wasn’t a metaphor… I don’t do metaphors, really.”
With Bistritz thus injured and no convenient mouse-holes about, it would be tough to continue their Littles-esque adventures. Therefore, Alice passed a morsel of “EAT ME” and brought herself and Robert back to normal size. She took some gauze from her coat and bandaged up Bistritz as best as she could. Robert slid him gingerly into his suit jacket, from which his front claws, snout, and shiny eyes poked out.
Odd oasis, this lab was. Though it should have been a hotbed of danger—of threats both bacterial and combatual—none of the weapons outside were aiming their way, and the shockwaves of destruction, though they rocked the room at intervals, dealt no damage. So they were free to walk, and even stroll, up to desks and microscopes, to loaded cabinets, to samples which were gold to them—no purer alchemy than this.
Robert swung two cabinet doors wide open and squinted at the labels on the dishes therein. “W…E…R…B?” He shook his head. “It’s too dark in here.”
“You want the light switch?” said Alice, who was levelling a magnifying glass at counter full of who-knew-what.
“Sure, what’s the harm?”
“What if the battle calms down? It might be suspicious if we give off too much light of our own.” So in lieu of the switch, she tossed a flashlight to Robert, and they tacitly agreed—better safe than sorry.
Now that he cast the light upon things, the sea creature could really see: he had revealed a whole trove of failed samples, werewolfism strains whose timed release was off. Ah, the complexities of biological experimentation. “Werewolf fifteen-point-five hours…werewolf twenty-point-eight days…” He shut the doors. “You’d think that by the year 3001, the best scientists in the world would have it down to…well…a science.”
With a stroke of her analytic chin, Alice said, “This is a great opportunity, Robert. I bet they have the primary strains here.”
“There’s two; I heard enough of their plan to know.”
“I agree…if the failed experiments are here, the first copy of the real thing might be too. But not the thing itself. They wouldn’t just leave it here until the time of the aliens, would they? They’d keep it with Igor’s guards. Or they’d just keep it with Igor, in the designated Igor place.”
“Agreed. That’s why this opportunity is so great: it can lead us right to the heart of this.”
Now it was coming together in Robert’s mind as well. “Your nose is really that sensitive? Huh.”
“Every nose is that sensitive. Do you know how tiny the difference between orange scent and pine scent is? Yet even the most plebeian nose won’t confuse them. Now, come on—let’s sniff out those molecules.”
They turned that laboratory inside out like a couple of inordinately slow, surprisingly respectful partiers. Lockers’ worth of petri dishes spilled out in landslide heaps, were lifted, examined, and delicately set back inside. The countertops were glimpsed, their test tubes smelled with fascination. And then there was nothing. A waste of fifteen minutes?
If ‘twere a waste, so be it—but there was one section they had not covered, had saved for last: the ominous back of the room, more shadowed than the rest. Although imaginations might like to garb this scene in tapestry of cobweb and spiders of cave, it was thoroughly antiseptic and, as the light of two flashlights revealed, dustless and recently touched. What dominated the scene was a bedsheet draped over a chair-shaped frame, and clearly over something else, too—the people-shaped contents of that frame.
But were the contents truly a person? Could they, in fact, have been microbial samples, or even one giant microbe?
“Well, that’s not it,” said Robert.
“I agree,” said Alice, “and I’m not in the least curious about what’s inside. It must be some old Halloween prop, or a dozing employee.”
“It could be Igor himself.”
“…That’s too stupid.”
“I know,” he admitted with a shrug, “but I may as well throw out every guess.”
Alice sniffled. “It smells like a robot, but I don’t know any robots…or do I?”
“Does it smell like bacteria?”
“Yes, but that’s not saying much. Everything’s covered in bacteria.”
“Even in the thirty-first century?”
The exchange was interrupted by a subtle noise and movement: the vibration and rattle of a small electronic, which jimmied the tablecloth small-ly but surely. Alice was the one to notice, to catch her breath, to raise the hand that paused Robert.
Without a word, she got her flamethrower—Robert his as well—and they pulled the triggers and the flames were spewed, so much hot breath from handheld behemoths, consuming the white tablecloth in a flash, and yearning to taste the robot.
Robot! Through the blazing light they could see vague features: uncanny eyes, apparently human but dry as stone, and all the rest like mechanical skin painted onto a stern-faced woman – that paint imperfect, flakes and cracks and all. She was stronger, however, than the average tin toy, her mecha-flesh would not burn in flames that soft.
The robot was active; she went from stoic to smiling.
“T-try lasers,” said Alice, still holding out flames, holding out hope.
Robert swapped out his gun—but not fast enough to attempt a shot, for the blazing robot’s blazing hand had taken hold of the werewolf.
The robonic woman chirped, “Alice!”
And a gigavolt charged her body.
Flesh rattled against bone, nerves charred, the brain stopped—commands of the mind were replaced by bootless spasms, and the stumped flesh, with brown hair charring, sizzling, submitted and obeyed. The body was dropped, singed and smoking, and the robot on fire, now standing from her throne, set sights on Robert and his trembling gun!
He managed to shoot her twice, in the face and chest. The lasers made faint fissures, but they did not slow, did nothing to deter her.
Robert reholstered the gun and threw his hands up. How could he fight fire, which would burn his gills?
He was also troubled by her hazy familiarity. That voice…it had billowed through the halls of his own Galapagos home, during Brown House announcements. “The First Lady?” he gasped, and a confused current ran through him—instinctive feelings for the robot monster: sympathy and disbelief.
But she was ignoring him. As the fire, harmless, cocooned her, Helen’s fingers played about her wrist device, and her grin intensity fell by half.
Then she said, as if to herself, “Two down, two in prison, one unaccounted for, and one both active and right in front of me. Or…two?”
Bistritz tunneled further into the pocket, out of sight. Robert began stepping back.
Helen sighed. “Getting some tactical distance? Look, you know you’ve lost.”
“I meant you, yourself. And I have places to be.”
She pointed at him like a Zeus on high, her lightning itself became royal decree—jumping from her hand to Robert’s forehead to knock him back, send him crashing on the ground.
Turning around, she used that flaming hand to open a big window’s blinds; sunlight bounded in, along with the light of even more fire crawling on those same blinds. A moment was spent seeing the Brown House lawn far below.
Why was such a bizarre figure as this Robonic Helen about to fall ten stories onto the lawn, tucking and rolling into a secret prisonward vault? No citizen would know. To them it would be just another of today’s mysteries.
Helen backed away and raised her fire-arms, preparing for a cartwheel. “Here goes! Hup!”
She wheeled—and something hit her hard in the back, interrupting her at the critical glass-busting moment! Instead of spiraling majestically, she flopped, ragdolling down.
Inside of the lab she had left, Robert and Alice remained on the tile, and Bistritz within the suit pocket; what had changed was the presence (or lack thereof) of Alice’s heap of blue mushrooms, thrown by the fishman’s trusty throwin’ hand. As the werewolf laid unconscious, he sat up moaning, rubbing an aching but not decimated head.
Soon he would crawl to the window and see for himself what was out there. He might even brave the hallway, its predators lurking, great brown sharks in red water. He decided, for now, to take a small break, “lighting” his pipe with a soap solution, secure in thinking they all three had done their best, and wondering if Wonderlandish mushrooms were possibly fireproof.
The Earth was on that swivel chaining afternoon to evening…meaning time again for the five o’clock news, with your host Charles Doggedson.
“Good evening, and thank you folks for tuning in. Doggedson here, and I have a very special report this holiday.”
A cheesy graphic of a little green man popped up beside him. The news anchor looked pleased and a little perplexed to add, “Aliens! Are they real? If they are, is their physiology close enough to ours to allow for werewolfinization? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding ‘yes!’ The current and hopefully eternal Brown House administration just released numerous reports, studies, and even dialogues from what has been an eight-year-long run of contact with bizarre humanoids from the planet Flutoid.” He chuckled and said, with a knowing glance at his ever-revolving mini-moon, “Let’s hope they’re not bizarre for long.
“But our top story of the day is—”
An arm emerged from offscreen, dropped a flood of papers on his desk, and swung away. “Oh?” said Doggedson, shoving the delivery into a messy stack. “I-it appears we have breaking news! The Brown House has chosen today, Independence Day, as the date of first contact, when alien diplomats actually descend to Earth, however briefly, and interact with—”
Yet another arm came, with still more papers! “Oh boy!” piped Doggedson. “Developments are coming faster than you can shake a stick at! A moon mining plan for Flutoid is in the works and, Igor claims, certain to be accepted by the Flutoidans, because the werewolfinization process will begin as soon as they hit Earth!” He pumped his fist. “Genius, Igor! Love that man!”
But there seemed no end to the good news. A third pile sprang upon his desk, and this sent Doggedson into a state approaching rapture! “Oh dear! Oh boy! Oh dear! Oh boy!”
He looked into the eyes of the camerawolves and asked, softly now, “Can I see it?”
Following came a flurry of murmurs, evidence of a set as entirely in uproar as the anchorwolfman himself. The words could not be distinguished, but the falling face of Doggedson told all. He took a deep, resignated breath and continued.
“I’ll be keeping you company in the studio while our on-the-spot reporter Animal Wolfin,” he growled, “will see the alien landing in person. And you can too,” he said with a point at the camera (more of a jab). “At approximately eight o’clock on the Brown House lawn—”
A werewolf of some authority plunked himself in the newsdesk’s second chair; the camera hastily zoomed out to see him. Dan Van Helsing had come, his hat askew and his eyes many-ringéd.
He snubbed Doggedson and spoke directly to the camera. “This is Dan Van Helsing here, and I’d like to issue a public announcement from the administration: stay off the Brown House lawn, if y’ would. We’re reachin’ carryin’ capacity and the ground is, uh, beginnin’ to sink in. The resultin’ sinkhole would break all yer bones.”
“Thank you, Mr. Van Helsing,” whispered Doggedson, tearful, thankful.
Another present of paper came to Doggedson from the offscreen beyond. He read, “The live footage you’ll be seeing comes not from the lawn, but from…the top of the Brown House itself?” The paper crumpled in his claws; he screamed.
Cut to footage from the Brown House roof, from a camera which looked down upon that overholding lawn. Yes, that lawn was packed! No grass could be spotted between the dark gates and trees…nor could those gates or trees be seen—for all were smothered in werewolves. Sign-carriers, megaphoners, boomboxers, picnicites…gawkers, nonbelievers, protesters, alien-lovers! All in a humming throng, brown mass, looking to the sky, prepared to wait in this raucour for hours—for what was an hour to the chance of a lifetime? Officers in blue and black could be seen, just barely, as dots attempting to push out parts of the crowd—but who would follow their command, have safety in place of something to cherish in eternal memory, the aliens, the diamond sight?
It is more accurate to say that the majority were not alien lovers, but UFO lovers. Few could refute the novelty of the coming strangers, but unless the Flutoidans were substantially wolflike, the werewolves were not interested in seeing their ugly mugs—and that, absolutely none could deny.
This was the scene when a window broke below, when a figure on fire gave the crowd more reason to disperse and more means to perish.