Leo futilely pushed with her tongue at the viscous, cloudy substance that accumulated in her mouth. It could not be pushed out or spat away or absorbed through swallowing. It secreted and thickened and would, in time, spread around her body’s surface until it, and she, were consumed by the alien creatures who had invaded Earth so long ago.
Leo turned to her keyboard as the crowded NASA Mission Room gasped at the new satellite images just then coming through on the grouped ceiling-high monitors in front of them. The images revealed greater detail of the hundreds of alien crafts approaching Earth. They were in a process of shedding their thin onion-like layers of outer shielding, stopping just long enough to consume it before resuming flight. The astronauts were still debating its significance several hours later when the crafts made entry and the burn off of a final layer of shielding exposed multiple sizes and shapes between them.
“It’s an invasion,” Arnold blurted into the stifling quiet of the Room as the crafts moved into positions around the planet. Gagarin shook his head at Arnold, demanding calm.
“Y’all have stories about this?” Leo asked Makaha quietly.
“About self-consuming alien spacecraft heralding an invasion force?” he replied. “No. Not really.”
Leo smiled. “Among the Lenape, we have teachings — prophecies — about others coming and taking our lands and ways of life. We always assumed it was about the English. That the invasion had happened already.” Makaha nodded. “But there are other stories . We have choices about how things go. There is no fate.”
“It would never occur to Kanaka Maoli to name our own annihilation,” Makaha said. “We would never say it has been done. Or that others should be feared for fear’s sake. Especially those who come from the stars.”
“Yes. That’s not what I meant…” Leo sighed.
“Alright everyone,” Gagarin spoke loudly, “tell me what I’m looking at.”
“There are 96 over the Asian continent; 37 over Africa; 73 over Europe; 23 over North America and 23 over South America; 5 over Oceania; 1 over Antarctica,” Gupta reported.
“Still calculating but so far almost one thousand over the world’s five oceans,” James said.
“We’ve got audio,” Pontes said.
“Audio?” Gagarin asked.
“Anytime you’re ready, sir,” Pontes replied.
“Do it. So everyone can hear,” Gagarin directed. The audio was coming into discernible pitch when the crafts stopped, resting perfectly still a short 7,000 meters above the Earth’s surface. Gagarin cut the audio as if he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
Over the oceans the crafts descended into the water where they became undetectable. Over lands the crafts descended to about 500 meters and held, including one on the Center’s shoreline east of Launch Pad 39A.
Without thinking, Leo stood and pushed her chair in. Followed quickly by Gagarin, Gupta, Makaha, Kardos, and Vlček, and several soldiers ordered to keep them put, they ran from the Center’s lockdown. For a quick second Leo wondered where everyone was that had once crowded the Center’s grounds but forgot all about them when she saw the craft, hovering above the shore. Five kilometers later, the astronauts gathered at the pad’s edge.
“It moves like a fetus against a womb’s confines—” Kardos said. Before he could finish his thought, something about a Trojan’s horse, the sounds of a thousand soldiers approaching from the west and the south stopped him.
“First responders,” Gagarin explained.
“Our first response is to bring in guns and bibles?” Leo asked incredulously, nodding towards the group of military chaplains who had gathered nearby.
“Standard deployment, Lieutenant,” Director Frank said as he approached. “We’ve removed all civilians off the Cape. They’re here to protect the security of our flagship space station.”
Leo was about to protest when the craft suddenly dropped to 200 meters and stretched and contracted before separating into six individual creatures.
As they pulled apart from one another some kind of sludge-like material that had held them together fell away and moved on its own to the places where ocean met land, along the shoreline and within the wetlands in and around the Center. No one could look away. And no one could decide where to look.
“They’re like plankton,” Leo mused out loud.
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Makaha agreed.
“Are you suggesting… What are you suggesting?” Vlček asked, confused.
“Nothing but that they look like plankton.”
“But clearly they are more advanced than plankton.”
“They’ve shed their skin and consumed it, like reptiles or amphipods. They’ve travelled cocooned together, like they’re a group of caterpillars going through metamorphosis. Who says they are not… who says that among their kind they are the most advanced?”
Gagarin took a quick breath and pointed to the shore. The military, in its attempts to cordon off the area where the sludge had dropped, had made contact with it. In doing so they had provoked a response. The sludge was mutating into some kind of viscous mucous-like white substance that was thickening as it spread over the shoreline. And almost instantly the tide along the coast was altered — pushed against.
“Commander?” Leo asked.
“You want to go down there?”
“I don’t think I can walk much further in this,” Leo said as she barely got her foot loose of the sand’s hold. “I wonder what’s happening underwater?” Leo asked and pointed with her lips to the contorted tide.
“You want to swim in this?” Makaha asked.
“Yea,” Leo answered. “Remember, most of them went underwater.”
“Alright,” Makaha answered not entirely convinced.
“Lieutenant! Sir!” the soldier said, waving his arms in a somewhat frantic gesture as they returned to their vehicle.
“What is it, Private?” Leo asked.
“It’s Lieutenant Gupta.”
“What?” Makaha asked.
“She’s been taken to medical.”
“I don’t know. But they want you — they want us — to join them. I’m to get you to medical, sirs.”
They found Kardos and Vlček pacing outside a medical bay that had been established west of the Center.
“What happened?” Leo asked as they approached. “Are you okay?”
“We were north of Vehicle Assembly, collecting samples. Near a large pool of water. We were having difficulty walking, our boots were getting stuck in the grass. We were sinking,” Kardos spoke fast and jittery.
“That sludge is reproducing faster than anything I’ve ever seen,” Vlček said somewhat more calmly. “Gupta was walking a bit further ahead of us and before we knew it, we couldn’t see her. The sludge created a sink hole and she fell right into it. It took six soldiers to pull her up. They’re all in there now. They’ve been quarantined.”
“Why weren’t you quarantined?”
“They said her suit was compromised when she fell and the soldiers weren’t suited up at all before they went in to get her out,” Vlček said.
“I don’t know what that stuff is but we’ve got to stop it,” Kardos said.
Frank and Gagarin approached.
“Once you’ve been cleared by medical, I want you to figure out what in the hell we’re dealing with,” Frank ordered.
“Before we know what we’re even dealing with, the entire Cape is going to be contaminated,” Gagarin said.
“What about animals, mammals, fish, birds?” Leo asked.
“We’re being invaded. They’re taking over our lands and water. And there’s nothing we can do about it,” Frank said, ignoring her, walking away.
“We’re being invaded? That’s rich.” Leo said.
“How else would you describe it?” Gagarin asked.
“We’re on Seminole lands. He’s not — you’re not — Indigenous. You don’t get to be the colonized.”
“How else would you describe it?” Gagarin asked again, irritated.
“As a contagion?” Leo looked to Makaha. It was not so easy to find the words. She just knew she was tired of everyone at the Center talking about an invasion as though there wasn’t any history of the place. As the place didn’t have a history.
In less than 24 hours Gupta and the soldiers were experiencing near constant heart pain and breathing irregularities. They slipped into a coma-like stasis, neither awake nor asleep. And then it began. The viscous, mucous-like substance secreted from their mouths, pushing their lips open. Their tongues protruded every now and then in a vain effort to push the stuff out. Doctors attempted to suction the substance out but they could not. And slowly a thin film of it appeared over their bodies, reflective and transparent and sticky.
Leo, Makaha, Vlček, and Kudos worked feverishly to try to figure out what they were dealing with without any result, and no effort by the government to communicate with the creatures had been successful.
“Have you seen this?” Kardos asked, gesturing to his monitor. “It looks like they are fighting.”
Everyone gathered around him.
“That’s not fighting,” Makaha said.
“We have no words for marriage in our language but we’ve got plenty of words for sex,” Leo said and sat back down in her chair.
“My aunties always said our best stories are the ones about seduction,” Makaha replied. “Long, wet seduction.”
“That’s true in any language!” Kardos said and he and Vlček laughed as if sharing a secret.
Makaha turned to the warning light on his monitor. “It’s breached the parking lot. It’s just outside.”
“It’s where?” Leo asked as she stood over his shoulder. “I’ll be on the roof.”
“I’ll join you,” Makaha said and they took off.
From the roof, they could see that the Center’s grounds were almost entirely covered in the sludge. There was something oddly frightening in the quiet vacancy of the place. And along the shore the creatures appeared to have released fertilized eggs into the sludge and quietly hover above as if resting from their previous exertions.
“They have surpassed us in numbers,” Gagarin concluded in his report to a full Mission Room.
“And that doesn’t bother anyone?” Hereford asked.
“Of course it does,” Gagarin replied.
“Nothing we do is having any effect?” Nitta asked.
“It’s like some alien race has just plopped itself down on our planet and is taking over everything and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Hereford answered.
“Yea, must be hard on you,” Leo said to Hereford’s hateful look.
“Maybe they don’t know what effect they are having on us,” Williams suggested.
“Yes,” Arnold agreed.
“They don’t know?” Hereford responded. “They don’t know they’re destroying our world?”
“If we can’t communicate with them, they can’t communicate with us,” James said. “Perhaps they are just as frustrated as we are?”
“That just sounds like liberal gobbledygook,” Hereford retorted. “Can we get back to science?”
“Come on, now,” Gagarin said.
“We need a weapon. We need something that will stop them,” Hereford declared.
“We don’t need a weapon,” James replied.
“Have you seen it out there? That stuff is everywhere. We are going to lose everything.”
“We need to figure out how to live with them, not devise ways to destroy them,” James responded.
“Live with them? You have got to be kidding me,” Hereford said.
“There have been attempts. China, North Korea, England, France, the US. The bombs did nothing,” Gagarin said. “I am not saying that all options have been exhausted but we, in this room, have not come up with any working alternatives. And there are some of the best minds in the world sitting in this room.”
“Nothing from you, Wolfe? Nothing about anything?” Hereford asked Leo.
“None of our tests have produced any results. As we’ve been saying all along,” Leo replied.
“So we’re giving up?” Arnold asked.
“Unless anyone can think of something else to do. Something else to try. Frank has given me permission to begin releasing you from the Center. So that you can return to your families. To your homes.”
“So we are giving up?” James asked.
“We’re conceding that we have no viable options.”
“Maybe it’s time we started talking biological warfare.” Hereford’s suggestion stagnated the room. “Come on, Leo. You have been down in those labs for months. You can’t come up with anything to use against them?”
“That’s the most offensive thing I have ever heard you say,” Leo said and walked out.
Leo retreated to the rooftop to watch the creatures as they played and fed and conversed with one another. The sludge had expanded everywhere, into the grooves of land and water, over roadblocks and roads and parking lots. It was beginning to push up against the Center’s west side. If they didn’t abandon the Center soon, it would be too late. They would be trapped.
Makaha, Kardos, Vlček, and Leo ran towards the Mission Room under the alarms of sound and light. The newborn creatures were attacking the medical bay. Everyone watched the monitors as the creatures ripped off the roof and sides of the bay and breached the quarantine room, where they seemed to eat whole Gupta and the soldiers confined within.
Leo closed her eyes with the sinking of her heart.
But within moments the creatures dropped their human food back onto their beds and returned to the shore. The substance had been entirely cleaned off their bodies. The doctors were about to report their full recovery, to suggest the creatures were trying to help, when they fell back into their stasis and their mouths began secreting the substance yet again.
Gagarin, without bothering to get formal permission, gave everyone at the Center permission to leave.
Leo invited her friends to come with her. She had been in near constant contact with her uncle. He and most of her family had long since left Heavener for Taughannock Falls. They had heard from others that Cayuga Lake, which feeds the falls, was unaffected by the creatures and they wanted to return to Lenapehoking before the world ended. Makaha, Kardos, and Vlček joined her, their own families too far away to get to, and they commandeered a helicopter to go north.
Makaha, Kardos, and Vlček pulled a circle of wood poles down to a center where Leo tied them off. They would then cover the poles with bark and shrub.
“Grams said the mats should be ready for you in the next day or so,” Uncle Regin said as he approached. “It’s a fine hut, Leo. But so many men for one woman?”
“She wears us out,” Makaha said, smiling.
“I’m sure… When you are finished playing with her, we could use some help with the wells.”
“Of course,” Makaha said.
“What is it?” Kardos asked Vlček, who had been rubbing his eyes all morning.
“I don’t know. My eyes have been tearing up. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I thought it was the cold air up here, but I don’t know.”
Kardos approached him and looked, closely, at the corners of his eyes. Leo and Makaha followed.
“What is this?” Kardos asked as he dabbed at Vlček’s left eye. “Some sort of eye guck?”