Chapter 16: The Fat Part of the Bell Curve
The two guards and one tech entered the cellblock right on cue. So far, no surprises. Five out of the six halo devices needed to be serviced, and according to protocol, everybody was locked down in their individual cells. The guards called Number 18 out first, restrained him, and Number 23 telepathically ran the access code to override the locks on the cell doors. Everybody stormed out, and the clones went caveman on the two guards. Their homemade shivs made sucking sounds as they plunged them in and out of gray flesh.
Luminescent blood sprayed out of the gaping wounds all over the cellblock, all over the clones, and all over creation, it seemed. Their blood was slippery like oil, and it smelled like fresh chum. Everybody was falling, and cursing, and some of them lost their lunches.
The tech bolted for the main door, but Number 4 made a shoestring tackle and a half dozen of his brothers quickly pounced and buried their shivs into its chest and neck. Everybody backed off of the mortally-wounded Gray, trying to stay clear of the rancid arterial spray. But before that bug-eyed son of a bitch bled out, it pressed a long sequence of numbers on what looked to be an oversized watch. Short Bus, with his head tilted quizzically to one side, watched the elongated alien finger dance over the little keypad. Each button emitted its own unique tone, like the numbers on a telephone keypad. Short Bus clapped his hands and mimicked the beeps and bloops in his childish, sing-song kind of way.
The dying Gray mustered enough strength to twist its lipless mouth into something like a smile, and it pointed to its stomach where a red light could be seen blinking underneath the silver material of its jumpsuit. It was a self-destruct device that was required of all personnel on the Asteroid Colony.
The radical protocol was established by The Council some 7,000 years earlier, when Gray scientists from the Asteroid Colony were exploring a reservoir of liquid water beneath the mantle of an Earth-sized planet at the interior of the M-64 Galaxy. There, the scientific team encountered an advanced, hostile population that took them captive. All of the Grays' equipment, including their vessel, was seized and reverse-engineered. The hostile species extracted sensitive information from the Grays through harsh interrogation procedures before finally hailing The Council and offering them up for ransom.
The offer was declined, and the Gray prisoners were summarily executed. Horrified by the security breach, The Council mandated that the self-destruct mechanisms be implanted into everybody who had any access to classified information.
Number 8 was unaware of this Stasi-like protocol, but he recognized the flashing red light for what it was. He grabbed Short Bus by the wrist and tried to pull him to safety, causing them to both slip in the putrid slime and topple backward. Somebody yelled, "Run!" and then the walls and ceiling inside the cellblock bulged from the concussive force of the self-destruct device. Eleven of the clones were killed instantly, their brains scrambled inside their own skulls.
Worse yet, two of the casualties were psychics, who were integral components of the mission -- Number 19, and number 22. Another six or seven were either unconscious, blinded, suffering from amputations, or some combination thereof.
Short Bus stood, lost his balance again, and crawled on his hands and knees over to Number 22. He sat Indian-style, cradling his dead brother in his arms, rocking back and forth the way mothers do when they want to soothe a colicky baby. Number 4 urged Short Bus to get up, but he refused. Number 4, sensing the urgency of the situation, slapped Short Bus across the face and yelled, "We have to move now!"
Short Bus touched the spot on his face where Number 4 had slapped him, set Number 22 aside gingerly, and stood up. The look of childlike innocence was gone from his face, displaced by a dark tempest that raged behind his eyes. He towered over Number 4, just for a moment, just to let him and everybody else know that he wasn't to be trifled with anymore.
"Okay, 58 ..." Number 4 said with a trembling voice, "I'm not the enemy. The enemy is out there, and they're coming to get us. We have to move now, all right, big man?"
Number 58 acknowledged with a nod. He walked over to the two dead guards and pried their spindly fingers off of their disruptors. He handed one disruptor to Number 15 and tucked the other inside his waistband. Then, Number 58 slung a dead guard over each shoulder and walked purposefully to the door. He peeked out the tiny window and saw the first wave of Gray reinforcements setting up a blockade about a hundred feet down the main corridor.
Number 58 dropped one of the dead guards to the ground, causing its head to report like a coconut off of the dingy cellblock floor. He recalled the little sing-song sequence of numbers he had learned earlier, and his fingers, as fat as Polish sausages, moved with hummingbird speed as he punched in the activation sequence on the dead Gray's oversized Timex.
He kicked open the door and flung the dead alien by the ankles with the grace and power of an Olympic hammer thrower. The Gray's body was airborne for quite a while, the rotational force pulling its arms and legs outward, so it flew like a ninja star. It finally hit the ground, but it was greased with its own blood, and it continued to slide like a hockey puck. The body slammed into one of the temporary riot barriers the eggheads had erected in the middle of the corridor, before coming to a sudden and unceremonious stop. It was lying on its stomach with one leg folded underneath its body, and a Gray darted out to the aid of their fallen comrade. It rolled the lifeless body onto its back, presumably to check for vital signs. The Gray's bulbous eyes almost popped out of its ugly balloon head as it realized the self-destruct device on his dead buddy was armed.
Number 58 slammed the door shut, and the clones hit the deck and covered their heads as a shockwave tore through the hall. The relatively narrow corridor concentrated the explosion the way the barrel of a rifle concentrates the powder blast from a cartridge. Thankfully, the massive security doors absorbed the brunt of the energy, saving the clones from any more immediate casualties.
The Grays, however, only had a few temporary barriers between themselves and Hell's fury. They were decimated, scattered like bowling pins.
"Let's go," 58 said with authority.
"We can't leave them like this," Number 8 said, gesturing to their gravely injured brothers with a broad sweep of his hand. "It's not right."
Number 58 shrugged his ponderous shoulders, drew the disruptor from his waistband, and systematically put his dying brothers out of their misery, Old Yeller style. The survivors among them suddenly understood what Marty Milligan had meant when he said 'Freedom ain't for the faint of heart.'
Roughly forty clones lived to fight the good fight, so they charged wide-eyed into the corridor at a full sprint. Numbers 58 and 15 had the firepower, so they made up the vanguard. The psychics were sandwiched in the middle of the bunch because they had to be protected at all costs if the mission was to be salvaged.
Their next objective was to secure the cache of disruptors, but their hand-drawn map was soaked through with alien blood. It was no longer legible, so they abandoned that idea and beelined for the medical facility, which they knew was a hundred and fifty yards straight ahead. They made it to the facility unmolested, and Number 21 was able to bypass the security system with the access code. The heavy tungsten doors parted, and a squad of armed Gray soldiers who were positioned on the other side opened up with their plasma rifles.
The lethal volley of green lightning bolts fried the half dozen clones that were in the immediate line of fire. They fell right where they stood, reduced to smoldering skeletons in a fraction of a second.
Number 15 tried to return fire with his disruptors, but he was among the first cut down. On the bright side, the bodies accumulated so quickly in front of the entrance that the Grays were not able to advance right away. Number 58 used the lull in the firefight the way a seasoned boxer uses a standing eight count after he's been tagged pretty hard. He took a few deep breaths, armed the self-destruct mechanism on his remaining little E.T. ragdoll, tucked it under his arm like a football and barreled through the deadfall of the tangled bones of his fallen brothers.
Number 6 was, for the most part, a pretty average guy. He consistently scored right around 100 on the annual IQ tests, and he was typically amicable toward his brothers as well as the Gray overseers. To tell you the truth, he didn't mind the life he had on the cellblock. It was pretty easy, and you got laid once a week. From what he knew about Earth, there were guys who didn't get laid for months, or sometimes years. And, on Earth, you had to go to work on most days because nobody gave you a place to stay and nobody brought you your food. It all sounded like a big hassle to him.
And then that goddamned Marty Milligan started all this shit that got everybody on the cellblock amped up. Number 6 never wanted to join the resistance force in the first place. He just went with the flow because it seemed easier than opposing it. And besides, he figured everybody would get bored with it sooner or later.
Look where that strategy got him. He was prostrate on a pile of rubble and corpses. A shrill ringing persisted in his head like one of those old-fashioned wind-up alarm clocks, and it felt like there was broken glass in his shoulder socket, compliments of Number 58's insane Kamikaze tactic. That guy never had any sense, and Number 6 wondered why they allowed an imbecile to have explosive devices in the first place.
Acrid smoke filled the corridor, so Number 6 slithered on his belly where there was a few inches of good air. There were bodies everywhere: his brothers' bodies, Gray bodies, and bodies that you couldn't even tell what species they belonged to.
"Fuck me," Number 6 mumbled to himself. "This was supposed to be my conjugal visit day."
Visibility was limited to about a foot, but he just kept army-crawling, hoping to find one of his brothers still alive. As he made his way through the aftermath, Number 6 bumped his head on the sharp edge of something.
"Son of a bitch," He grumbled.
He went to push the obstruction out of the way, and from the shape of the thing, he could feel it was a box, about sixteen inches long, sixteen inches wide, and sixteen inches high.
The container was cracked and slowly leaking some kind of fluid. He realized his elbows and forearms were resting in the warm, scummy puddle that had collected around the box.
"Shit," Number 6 said under his breath. He saw a brain floating inside the half-empty container and, after a moment, it occurred to him that it must have belonged to Number 0. "Well I'll be damned," he said.
The container had evidently been damaged in the explosion, and the brain didn't look too good either. A big chunk of the front part was almost completely detached from the rest of it, and the tissue was kind of a dead gray color like some ground chuck that had been left out too long.
A fat tear rolled out of Number 6's eye and cut a clean streak through the soot that caked his face. It wasn't dying that saddened him, but the prospect of dying alone. He wondered what Marty Milligan was doing on Earth ... probably lounging in the shade while sipping an ice-cold beer at his estate in Boca while his trophy wife, still in her twenties, sunbathed topless next to the Tuscan-style pool. Is that what freedom is? he wondered.
Number 6 drew his homemade shiv from his belt when he heard approaching footsteps. He lay very still as the Grays filtered in, stepping over corpses and crunching through broken glass. There were three of them, all armed with disruptors. Number 6 was beyond caring. He sprung to his feet like a life-size rabid jack-in-the-box, and buried the shiv into the big fat head of the closest Gray with a downward stabbing motion.
The little bastard's big eyes clouded over, and it fell backward dramatically like an alien stunt double in a spaghetti western.
Number 6 grabbed another one of those sons of bitches by the shoulders and thrust it out in front of him like a shield. The little guy did a commendable job of soaking up the disruptor wave his buddy had just fired, and Number 6 charged forward, using the Gray's fat head like a battering ram. The oblong cranium impacted the other Gray's frail, old-man chest, and the blow caused it to drop its disruptor and collapse like the little bitch it was. Number 6 retrieved the disruptor and finished the job with a well-placed shot to the S.O.B.'s ugly mug.
He discarded the sonic disruptor and picked up a plasma cannon that had been abandoned on the floor. It felt good and heavy, like it meant business. Number 6 took cover behind an overturned metallic table and opened up with a burst of green lightning when the next wave of reinforcements came barreling through the doorway. He incinerated three or four right off the rip, but their furious counter-strike melted the table he was using as cover into a pool of molten metal. Number 6 was completely exposed in the middle of the room, but he was smiling like the Cheshire Cat, shooting from the hip, frying the gray bastards like mosquitoes in a bug zapper on a hot summer night.
Finally, a sonic disruptor wave got him, and his nervous system short-circuited. He fell to the ground, but in his last moments he was not alone. Number 0's etheric substance was there with him, and without words it conveyed this sentiment:
"Don't mention it," Number 6 whispered. And then his signal went dark.
Roy surveyed his surroundings and tried to piece together the events that could have led to such carnage. He saw bodies everywhere. Some Grays, some humans, some he couldn't make heads or tails of. The humans who were still recognizable all looked like him.
They cloned me. Dozens of me. What the fuck? And my clones fought for me. They came to save me.
Roy looked at his ruined brain -- his only tangible connection to the physical universe. A dozen or so Grays were huddled around the brain, making assessments about the extent of the damage. For all their technology, they were no better than all the king's horses and all the king's men. The fucking thing was busted, and there was no putting it back together.
Roy let his etheric substance drift upwards through the ceiling. He continued to ascend through fifty or sixty feet of solid rock until he was at the surface of the Asteroid. The Grays were in a frenzy, like ants whose little hill had just been kicked over by a mean child. They scoured the topography with their weapons drawn, checking every nook and cranny for insurgents.
Roy wondered how long he might last without a corporeal component to affix him to the physical world -- how long before he would lose the signal and decohere. He thought about drifting away into space and making a mad dash for home. From what he could tell, he was in the middle of some kind of asteroid belt. Lindsay had called it The Oort Cloud and she said it was about a light year away from Earth. Roy wasn't sure how many miles a light year was, but he knew he had a tough time making the trip from West Virginia to the moon in one piece.
Even if he knew which direction home was, a light year was just too damn far. Sure, he might make it out into deep space, but his consciousness, like one of his old college roommates' boiled-egg farts, would gradually diffuse more and more until it lost all of its defining characteristics and simply faded away. No sir, a light year was out of the question. He'd have to think of a better plan.
Roy made sure to keep his etheric substance close to the ground, careful not to tip anybody off to his presence. There was a triage set up near the docking station, where roughly two dozen Grays suffering from varying degrees of trauma were being tended to. Some of them were missing limbs or portions of their head and face. Some had burns, or broken bones, or shrapnel wounds.
There was one Gray in particular that caught Roy's attention. He seemed to be intact. That is, there weren't any missing parts or severed arteries spewing blood, but it looked stunned as it sat there on the edge of the cot. Its bug eyes stared directly ahead, unblinking and vacuous. Roy thought the thing looked like it had suffered a pretty serious concussion. What was the old saying? The lights are on, but nobody's home.
And that was Roy's eureka moment. The Gray offered a viable, flesh-and-blood sanctuary in which he could temporarily reside. After all, he just needed an insulator to protect the delicate quantum processes that make up his consciousness. If Roy could get inside the Gray's head, he'd have a stable environment where decoherence wouldn't be an immediate issue. Intuitively, he suspected the impaired cognitive functions of the concussed Gray would make it an easy target. The thing was just sitting there in a total daze, like that burnout kid from high school who huffed too much glue. And for all intents and purposes, Roy was a ghost who could move through solid rock. How hard could it be to infiltrate that egghead skull?
Only one way to find out, Roy thought, as his etheric energy settled around the Gray's head like a phosphorescent mist, passing easily through the bone and sinking down deep into the spongy matter. Roy's consciousness assimilated rather quickly into the new environment, coursing through the vast neural networks of the Gray's brain, becoming aware of its thoughts and emotions, and gaining access to its memories.
The being was not cognizant of the parasitic energy that had taken up residence in its mind; it had only a vague inkling that something was amiss. The Gray chalked it up to a symptom of the head trauma it suffered during the terrorists' insane suicide attack at the medical facility.
Roy had a front-row seat to the show as the Gray replayed the events of the human insurrection in its mind. The details of the day unfolded, and it became quite clear that his clones had carried out a coordinated attack in an effort to save his ass.
Of course, the mission was horribly botched, and all of his brothers ended up dead.
They didn't look like Navy SEAL types -- more like some regular Joes, and poorly armed ones at that. They had been outnumbered, shit scared, and facing certain death. But they got in there and mixed it up as best they could, and they took a lot of those Gray mother fuckers with them. Roy was proud of his brothers. Damned proud. He could have cried he was so goddamned proud.
In fact, Roy did cry. At least, the Gray alien whose brain he was inside of cried on Roy's behalf, and it really freaked that bug-eyed son of a bitch out. As Grays evolved over millions of years, their limbic systems diminished in size and scope, which reduced their capacity to experience emotion. This evolutionary trend produced an entire race of beings that were about as lively as an old Brit gumming a dry scone and sipping weak tea.
So, you can imagine the Gray's consternation when it was suddenly infused with this muddled, yet potent wave of pride, empathy, longing, and sorrow. Its tear ducts, which up until that point had only functioned to clear debris from its oversized eyes, suddenly convulsed with painful spasms and squeezed out cascading rivulets of briny H2O.
While the Gray clutched its gourd-like head in its hands, trying to quell the torrent of tears, Roy got inspired to try a little experiment. He recognized that the connection he had to the Gray alien was not exclusively mental -- he was also intertwined on a physiological level. But to what extent? That was the 64-thousand-dollar question.
Roy made the conscious decision to squeeze the alien's right hand into a fist and punch itself squarely in the face. The thought was realized as an electrical impulse in the Gray's brain that traveled along a highway of neurons that led to its spine. From there, the impulse activated a series of motor neurons which caused the fibers in the skeletal muscle to contract the right hand into a fist and abruptly flex the bicep. The result was a self-inflicted, Three-Stooges-caliber punch to the nostril holes.
Roy experienced the sting of the punch every bit as much as the alien, but despite the pain, he found the situation incredibly funny. The hysterical energy Roy felt rippled through his Gray host, causing it to fall off of its cot and convulse with laughter. A triage attendant approached hurriedly, concerned that the patient was in the midst of a seizure. It rummaged through a big black medical bag and pulled out a formidable looking probe. Roy wasn't sure what the device was for, or even what orifice it might fit into, and he sure as hell didn't want to find out.
Acting as the puppet master, he quickly composed himself and prompted his host body to stand, brush itself off, and make a reassuring gesture to indicate everything was fine.
The attendant didn't seem convinced, but acquiesced when a transport vehicle rumbled into the triage center with the next batch of wounded Grays. All medical personnel became entirely focused on offloading and assessing the new arrivals, and Roy compelled his host body to casually saunter away.