XVI. Like a Record

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The humans were making lots of sounds and lots of smells.

Bruno dutifully stared straight ahead, panting. Mommy was putting something on his side and paw where the Bad Thing had bitten him. It smelled terrible, filling Bruno's nose and making him sneeze. His wounds stung as the human wiped blood off his fur and daubed more of the smelly goop onto him, but he only whined softly. Mommy had said to Stay. Mommy was In Charge, and Bruno was a Good Boy.

He distracted himself by sniffing at Mommy. Her shirt smelled like running-sweat and a tiny bit like the Bad Thing. Her breath smelled of recently-chewed minty gum and, unmistakably to his sensitive nose, the unusual and slightly less-recent odor of cigarette smoke.

The hand she was using to wrap his paw in a bandage smelled like smoke in a different way. Daddy's hands smelled like that sometimes, a little like the smoke that hung in the air on the Worst Nights of the year, when terrifying thunder filled rainless skies.

Mommy finished bandaging Bruno. He sniffed at the bandages for a moment before Mommy told him No. He relented. He could always take the bandages off later, when she wasn't watching.

Julia rushed past her mother to hug Bruno again. Bruno's tail wagged and he licked her face. The little girl was the Most Precious and Important human. She smelled a lot like fear-sweat and her hair smelled like strawberries. Her breath smelled like milk and her hands and shirt smelled like popcorn. Bruno glanced around to see if any of the popcorn had conveniently fallen anywhere nearby.

Daddy came in and said something. He smelled like drying fear-sweat too but he moved and spoke with assurance. He smelled a little bit like the smelly leather seats in his loud car. Mommy was In Charge, but Bruno made it a habit to watch Daddy's face.

Mommy called upstairs and Jessica came down fast. She was carrying two backpacks. Bruno could smell snacks and books and Jessica's box of markers that made him sneeze.

Daddy said something else, then looked at Bruno. "All right, Bruno. Let's go outside."

Bruno wagged his tail and limped over to Daddy so he could put on the leash. Jessica, Mommy and Julia all went through the door too. A family walk! The idea excited Bruno, but he whined a little with worry. What if there were more Bad Things? His paw was hurt. He might not be able to protect the humans.

He sidled next to Julia, just in case. He'd stay by her side. He'd keep her safe.

Bruno heard something then, rising in volume alarmingly. He looked up sharply and growled, but then he looked at Daddy and Daddy said "It's all right, Bruno. Heel. Stay. Good dog. Girls, stand all the way back until it's landed and I say it's all right."

The sound grew and Bruno kept checking Daddy's face to make sure everything was really all right.


Something came down out of the sky. A bird? No! It was bigger than a bird. It was bigger than a car. Bright lights shone from the noisy thing as it descended.

It landed in the cul-de-sac. Seconds passed, the sound decreased as the spinning blades slowed, and people started to come out of it.

"All right, that's it. Let's go. Come on, Bruno," Daddy said, and the five of them walked to the flying thing whose spinning blades confused and frightened Bruno. Daddy spoke to the people, though, and they answered him respectfully.

Then Mommy climbed into the thing. Bruno hesitated until Julia stepped up after her mother, and that settled it. Favoring his injured leg, Bruno hopped up and in. The flying thing smelled like smoke and oil and exertion-sweat and many more smells Bruno could not identify.

Jessica got in after him so Bruno was sandwiched between the girls. That was fine by him, although he readjusted so Jessica's hip didn't press on his bandaged wounds. Jessica smelled like deodorant and popcorn and his favorite blanket.

She scratched him behind the ears and reached into the backpack, pulling out a bone-shaped cookie.

Bruno delicately took the delicious treat from Jessica's lotion-scented hand and scarfed it in seconds, wagging his tail. This was why Jessica was his oldest and most trusted friend and companion.

Daddy was still standing outside talking to someone. Then, Bruno smelled it.

The Bad Thing. He stiffened, his fur rising, and growled. Daddy turned and spoke reassuringly. "It's all right, boy."

Bruno examined his face and relented. The smell kept getting stronger, though.

And then it was there. The two people who had climbed out when the flying thing arrived were back, carrying something between themselves. Bruno couldn't help it, and whined again, his ears flat against his head.

Mommy reached over and rubbed his muzzle. The people pulled the crinkly plastic lump into the back compartment of the flying thing, tying it down in the open space behind the seats where the people had strapped in.

The people climbed in behind the seats and stood, holding handles. Daddy climbed in and strapped himself into the seat beside Mommy and closed the door after him.

Bruno's sensitive ears were assaulted with noise, loud and close now. He kept his gaze squarely on Daddy's face as his stomach dropped and everything vibrated horribly. There was wind and noise everywhere and smells were blown away before Bruno could smell them properly.

He stifled a whine and shifted to lie down low, keeping himself protectively pressed against Julia, who in turn kept her fingers tightly locked in Bruno's fur.

He could still smell the Bad Thing. It smelled like fish and seaweed and ocean brine. It also smelled a little bit like blood. Some of his, and something else.

Bruno panted, his gaze flicking around. He looked up at Daddy, back to Mommy, then looked between them at the plastic bundle behind them and between the two people in identical clothing like Daddy wore sometimes.

The thing smelled like the sea. It smelled like sand. It smelled a little like chlorine and a little like smoke.

It did not smell dead.

And it was making a new smell. Something acrid like burning rubber.

Bruno struggled to his feet and bared his teeth. He barked.

Daddy tried to quiet him, but Bruno felt a piercing, rising certainty that the Bad Thing was not dead.

His hackles rose, he tore away from Julia and regardless of Daddy's rebukes he began barking frantically at the slowly bulging plastic.


"Bruno! What's gotten into you? Calm down, it's okay! It's... wait. Is it--"

Far above the arguing news crew in the sputtering motorboat, the bloated shape's ridged surface shifted. It extended its lengthy, whip-like extremities. Lips formed on the flared bulbs of black alien flesh tipping the ropy arms, opening and emitting something that made the air distort.

After a few seconds, the orifices belched out blasts of blue flame that sputtered before settling into a constant roar.

The arms curled, bracing themselves, and the thing menacing the sky above the bay began to turn.

Jason looked green as the motorboat rocked, but he did his best to keep up with Sarah's direction.

"There's not much light left, bump the ISO up to 3000. Quick, it's moving." Sarah had a strange light in her eyes as she held her phone back up to her ear and looked up at the increasingly faster-turning floating monster.

"Yes. It's moving and we've got the angle. We're ready and rolling. Right. Say the word. What? It was just working! They-" She snapped her fingers at Jason and scrabbled at the wireless microphone receivers.

"For the love of-- put this line through. No, this call, I'm handing him the phone, I'll call you on my other one. I'll count him off."

Sarah grabbed the microphone out of Adam's hands and shoved her phone at him, gesturing to hold it up to his mouth.

She held up a hand and gave the countdown as a single hand motion, 3-2-1.

She mouthed at him. NOW.

The blond man gazed into the camera and started speaking with the phone held up to his mouth.

"I apologize to our audience for our audio quality. We are having technical issues with our sound equipment.

"The scene we are witnessing here is unthinkable. For those just tuning in, this as-yet-unidentified creature you see here appeared in the sky over San Francisco Bay and attacked the Golden Gate Bridge minutes ago. The bridge suffered extensive damage and evacuation efforts are ongoing. US Navy fighter jets have engaged with the creature in response and successfully pushed it back away from the bridge, but after the initial impacts it came to a stop. It appears to be relatively undamaged despite the ongoing assault by the jet fighters.

"As you can see, the creature has now apparently begun to spin in place at an accelerating pace. My producer theorizes it's doing that to minimize the damage the missiles are doing, but we don't--"

Far above the motorboat, another arm began to extrude holding a bulging lump. The arm continued to extend and centripetal force kept it taut.

It released.

The projectile struck the bridge. The news crew shouted in dismay.

"The creature-- the creature is now hurling some kind of projectiles at the bridge at incredible speed! God, the bridge is buckling. How many people are still on the bridge?"


"Let me DRIVE!"


"I see it!"

The compact car continued to push its way through road cones. Agatha accelerated, aiming the vehicle for a too-narrow gap between an eighteen wheeler and a guiderail.


The driver's side mirror and most of the paint on the left side of the vehicle were violently stripped away. Agatha didn't slow.

"There's a--"


Something slammed into the bridge ahead of the car and the structure rocked.

Danielle screamed as a support cable snapped and ripped through cars two lanes away as if they were tissue paper.

Agatha's eyes narrowed, her knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, and her foot pushed the accelerator flat to the floor.


Agatha's eyes flicked for an instant to the passenger window. An indistinct blur entered her vision for a moment, something the size of a car unfolding.

In the passenger side mirror she saw vehicles and pieces of vehicles brutally thrown off the bridge by something with massive, powerful claws.

She slammed on the brakes to avoid a collision, swerving to cut between abandoned vehicles, stripping any remaining paint from both sides of the vehicle. The passenger's side mirror was gone.

The bridge shook as more cables snapped. The pavement under the speeding compact car rippled as it screeched through the narrow gaps.


The metal of the suspension bridge screamed, impossibly loud, nails on a chalkboard amplified to rattle the fillings in Agatha's teeth.

In the rear view mirror, Agatha saw cars and asphalt behind her rising in a rolling wave. She gritted her teeth, swerving to avoid an abandoned motorcycle, and sideswiped a van in passing.

"Almost," she said, softly now. She reached over and gripped her wife's hand.

"Agatha," Danielle said, and didn't say anything else.

Ahead of them, the bridge was crumbling, falling away. Parts of the road dipped and rose as the bridge began to separate.

Behind the vehicle, something with far too many eyes and limbs roared and leapt after the fleeing vehicle.

Agatha aimed and gunned the engine. The tires left the asphalt.

The car hung in empty space for an eternal instant.


The car slammed onto the asphalt of the far side and bounced before regaining traction and shooting forward just ahead of the crumbling road.

Seconds after the vehicle reached solid ground, the remaining section of the bridge tumbled down into the water.

Agatha didn't so much park the car as let it come to a stop. She started to tell Danielle to stop screaming. Then she realized the sound was coming from her own throat.

Hands shaking, she embraced her wife and burst into tears.

The threads of my mind were a cacophony of virtually unintelligible information. I still hadn't the faintest clue how the designs I now witnessed had come about.

Steel? Carbon composites? Hydrocarbons? Where had these come from? They didn't have any reproductive organs, but most of them seemed to have some kind of symbiotes.

I had already obtained a few meager specimens of the symbiotes, scarcely enough to unlock the mystery of the hard divergence in evolutionary history that led to planetary seismic disturbances.

Whatever their provenance, these designs were immediately useful. Within the safety of the armored elevation platform, my excavator reconfigured itself.

I wondered idly how the probes I'd sent to explore the mainland were faring. I looked forward to reviewing their findings and any specimens they managed to obtain.

I had obtained and processed several of the steel-and-carbon-and-aluminum things on the bridge structure. I couldn't take any more specimens for now-- the elevation platform wouldn't support that much more weight.

I shed ballast by launching probes at the bridge structure. They would bring more of the metal things and their symbiotes into the water for me to study.

I had anchored the elevation platform in place and improvised suitable countermeasures for the fascinating things darting through the air around the elevation platform peppering it with explosive projectiles.

I was extremely curious about the things. They were so fast, so maneuverable! Such a variety of interesting weapons!

I wanted one.

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