XXXII. Egyptian River
"You got it on you? The guy on the TV just said don't touch them or let any of their stuff get on you! Holy crap, Danielle!" Agatha fussed over Danielle.
"Quick, let's get you into the shower and get that stuff off you as quick as we can. Try not to get any in your mouth. Pile your clothes right here, I'll bag them up and start wiping everything down with bleach."
"Shower sounds good," Danielle mumbled, blinking hard.
no prob. <3 be safe
Gotta go, sorry
Why can't he just
But I saw him get stung on the beach
Like... he's now 100% convinced the hospital did this to him
Not great tbh
how's your dad doing?? it sucks he got stung trying to help cyrus :\
I talked to my mom and the doctors and they're not gonna let my dad watch TV so that's something
It's like seeing it activated something in him
uh... what do you mean
But I can tell he's lying
And now he's saying he just wasn't thinking straight
He realized they were just going to sedate him so he got really calm
He was mad and shouting at first but like
He sounded really, actually convinced
I don't know
He was saying he needs to go to it
needs to go?
They were going to sedate him, he was shouting saying he needs to go
And when he saw those lights he FREAKED OUT
And Cyrus is watching TV cause he doesn't have anything else to do
So they showed that thing on TV
they're like... really pretty though?
it's weird, i know it's super dangerous like the one that attacked the bridge but...
all those colors and weird patterns
that stuff out in the water...
yeah i'm watching on the news right now
I'm really starting to freak out
Gabriela is typing...
Lashawna chewed her lower lip as she looked back and forth between the screen showing the footage of the attacking monstrosities and the screen containing her personal notes about the creatures.
After Waters's comment had been picked up by the microphone, she'd pulled up some images of nudibranchs and compared them to the giant things crawling onto the land. There was a definite resemblance, although there were subtle anatomical differences that somehow made it look as though it came not just from an entirely different environment, but an entirely different era.
Lashawna looked back at her notes. Unlike her lab reports and experimental data, these personal notes were disorganized and chaotic. She wrote and deleted sentences in a stream of consciousness, trying to make sense of the evidence she had.
5/18 exposed sailors had adverse reactions to ASTRAL LARK rust dust
jellyfish sting victims' symptoms are identical
ASTRAL LARK autolysis reaction-- self destruct?
retroviral agent present in all liquefied tissues.
also present in newly discovered jellyfish
present the same liquefaction
hypotheses with experimental support:
reaction triggered by getting it out of the water
can be slowed by keeping specimen in ocean water
untested (untestable?) hypotheses:
the liquefied remains are a chemical signal.
ASTRAL LARK is iteratively improving. it's learning about us and adapting.
it's designed to self-destruct when it loses contact.
block that signal somehow?
can we put something in the water that'll cut them off and force them to self-destruct?
Anything fine-tuned will be prohibitively expensive, anything broad will do extensive environmental damage
how long until it just adapts to whatever we use?
how can we actually beat this thing?
She sighed and looked back at the news crew's live stream.
Landsburg was driving now so that Roberts could more directly address the camera. They were still all stuffed into the van with all the windows rolled up. It looked claustrophobic.
"Unfortunately, the KXSF Eye in the Sky is not able to broadcast as the airspace over San Francisco has all been designated temporarily restricted. As you can see below us, the police and fire departments have blocked off the streets west of Sunset
The cameraman was doing the best he could to show the streets outside the van. The van had sought out a vantage point at the top of a hill with a view clear down to the water.
Lashawna's blood ran cold.
"I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous it is to be outside. Do not go outside, and under no
"ADAM!" Sarah yelped.
Adam spun and looked.
Lashawna leaned in to see.
Dave pushed in, zooming and holding the camera as steady as he could.
A man was running on the road.
Toward the approaching giant slug monsters.
"No," someone in the van said, simply.
A police officer holding a cloth over his mouth waved the man down, shouting at him.
The man paid the officer no mind as he scrambled around a roadblock.
Adam fumbled for words. "Th-- ladies and gentlemen watching at home, any children or sensitive viewers should be advised that this broadcast is live during an ongoing-- oh,
An emergency worker tried and failed to tackle the man.
Lashawna covered her mouth as he ran straight toward the nearest massive shape crawling forward and feeling in front of it with its long facial tentacles.
A burst of multicolored light emanated from the thing's head, and the man ran faster.
"Why would--" Waters' voice was briefly audible.
He went silent as the man ran directly to the thing, standing directly in front of it to stare into the multicolored nexus of lights.
The man raised his hands directly into the air. It looked like he was shouting something.
One of the creature's facial tentacles wrapped around the man's midsection and lifted him up into the air.
His face was only barely visible in the shot, but Lashawna was sure it looked like he was laughing.
It pulled him into its face and flesh parted, revealing a dark, barb-filled void.
The man struggled only for a second before the opening closed and his limbs and most of his torso fell to the ground.
"Th-- ladies and gentlemen, we've just witnessed something truly horrific and inexplicable--"
"Adam," Sarah said.
More people were emerging onto the street. At first Adam only saw one or two, but then he saw a small group emerge from around a corner.
They moved west with purpose toward the sea and the creatures coming out of it.
"Doctor Carruth," a seaman said at the door, and Lashawna jumped in surprise.
"Y-yes? How can I help you?"
"Rear Admiral Omar wants to see you immediately."
Agatha watched the unfolding situation on the news with growing dread. She had gloves on and had bleached every exposed surface. Alan was relegated to the bedroom while Agatha wiped every surface with cleaning products.
"She's probably fine," she mumbled to herself. "Just a little got on her, and she washed it off right away. She's gonna be okay."
Cortes piped the fighter pilots' radio channel into speakers at his workstation.
"Mollusk Eight, guns, guns guns," crackled a voice.
"Mollusk Five. Fox three," another came momentarily.
On one of the big screens, the nose cameras of the two fighter jets showed machine guns firing on one screen and a missile sailing away on the other.
On the first screen, the alien flier swooped out of the way faster than the pilot could aim.
On the second screen, the biomechanical drone swooped too, but the missile turned to follow. The unearthly thing took a direct hit and lost control, corkscrewing to the ground before exploding in a massive puff of reddish smoke.
"More ground contacts, ma'am. Are all squadrons' orders unchanged?"
"Affirmative, Lieutenant," Shyamala said, her eyes not leaving the screen. "Aerial forces are to continue maintaining their distance."
Doctor Carruth entered the control room with her escort and strode over to Shyamala.
"Yes, C-- Rear Admiral?" The doctor had bags under her eyes like she hadn't slept.
"Doctor," Shyamala said, "I assume you've seen the news reports. What's your analysis?"
The doctor's face contorted for a moment, her lip pulled into a sneer and her eyebrows drawing together. Then she looked up at Shyamala and exhaled slowly, closing her eyes and twisting her mouth.
"Rear Admiral, I don't have an analysis. I haven't had the time, the resources, or the head count to perform an analysis. If you want my preliminary impressions--"
"Please." Shyamala looked at her steadily.
The doctor exhaled again.
"Keeping in mind that this is little more than educated guesses at this point-- what we're witnessing is technology from a civilization advanced far beyond our own. The reason the specimens we take liquefy is it's sending messages back to the mother ship. Dead ASTRAL LARK specimens turn into a self-replicating, information-dense sludge that it can somehow detect and recover."
Shyamala nodded for the doctor to go on.
"It's managed to figure out how to infect humans now, and it's spreading the virus to people in the city now with those liquid-filled projectiles and the dust the flying drones drop. I don't know what kind of differences there are between the two, but based on the events broadcast over the last few minutes, it looks like the virus is... changing human behavior."
"Changing human behavior how?"
Doctor Carruth rubbed her face. "To make people more susceptible to those flashing patterns. The cordyceps fungus makes ants climb up high on grass so they'll be eaten by the next host in their reproductive cycle. It evolved mechanisms to rewire the ant's brain incrementally. Well, people already like seeing pretty colors and patterns, but it's making people more susceptible at the same time it's improving its lures. Like the cordyceps fungus, or anglerfish, but designed. And adapting in real time."
She pointed to the news camera's live feed.
"Those people-- what they see in those lights, it's probably like a religious experience for them. Once they see it, they just... have to go towards it."
Shyamala looked Doctor Carruth in the eye. "Do your preliminary observations and educated guesses touch on why it's targeting human beings?"
Carruth shrugged helplessly. "Its motives are unknowable, but at this point it just looks like it wants to learn about humans."
"Then why doesn't it try to communicate?"
Carruth laughed. "What? Like we communicate with starfish when we study them? Like we communicate with bacteria in a petri dish? How could something like that and a human being ever have the slightest thing in common?"
Shyamala just nodded. She turned her head back to the screens showing the ongoing dogfighting.
"Have you determined any plausible avenues of attack against ASTRAL LARK yet that would present a true hard counter?"
The doctor shook her head wearily. "Nothing that isn't prohibitively expensive or wouldn't turn the western seaboard into a Superfund site."
Shyamala couldn't trust herself to look Carruth in the eye. She asked her next question carefully.
"If somebody were to tell you they did have a real hard counter, what would you imagine it to be?"
"Danielle, sweetie? Are you okay? I made you tea," Agatha called through the door. She fidgeted. She'd turned off the TV. It was too much.
Through the door, she heard the sound of Danielle throwing up.
"Sweetie? You're okay, yeah? Come get some tea, we'll turn the air conditioning way down and get under a blanket and watch a Yule log video. Yeah?"
The door opened. Danielle looked ashen, but she smiled at Agatha.
"That sounds really nice," she said.
Agatha smiled and sniffled, then pulled Danielle into a hard hug.
"You're okay, okay? You're gonna be okay, and everything is gonna be okay."
Danielle just nodded hard into Agatha's shoulder.
"I'll let Alan out of the room and he can get all his head scratches in. Yeah?"
"Yuh," Danielle said from Agatha's shoulder. She didn't let go.
They stood like that a few minutes longer in the silent apartment.
"I love you," Agatha whispered.
"I love you too," Danielle said.
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I estimate OCTO is now around 2/3 complete. I still have a few more things up my sleeves, so I hope you'll stay tuned.
Thank you so much for reading 32 chapters of OCTO!Previous Next