Prologue: March 10th 2130
Georgina sat amid the pine needles and watched the stars as they sparkled in the clear black sky. Below, the mountains slumbered and the tall trees waited in the gentle silence. She knew she was going to die soon. It would begin tonight.
She had known for several weeks that something was going to happen; in a way, she had known it all her life. It had been vague, until the dreams became clearer a few months ago: they had filled in some of the details.
She knew that she had to come out to this quiet mountainside on the night of the three New Moons, and now she was here.
She knew that something would approach: a light from the sky, a strange spacecraft, or something like that. She waited peacefully, enjoying the magic of the night-time scenery.
The Mind of Gaia, her world, had confirmed to her the accuracy of the dreams; it had also shown her that her last days would be long and painful. On the plus side, it had assured her that it would stay with her and help to sustain her spirit until the very end, should it turn out that way.
Overhead, unnoticed by her, one of the stars was moving erratically. Searching.
Then it found its quarry.
Chapter 1: Dreams
Preliminary Report to the President, March 18, 2130
World-Wide Dreams of Alien Invasion
J Christofu & S Rodriguez
Summary of Investigations to Date
Recent newspaper reports that seers and psychics around the world have been respectively foretelling and dreaming about an invasion of the Earth by a large spaceship have been confirmed. Furthermore, agency seers confirm the visions as probably being based on future fact.
The nature of the spaceship, i.e., alien or not, has not been confirmed. However, descriptions and drawings made by agency seers and private individuals imply that the technology is beyond our own. Therefore, it is considered likely that the craft will be alien, and therefore that it will be Cthphth.
The nature of the attack, the timing of the attack, the source of the attack, and the reasons for the attack, have yet to be determined.
The recently inaugurated President Myers looked up from the report summary and sighed. He yearned for the good old days when all a fellow had to worry about were today’s problems. Tomorrow would take care of itself – that was how it should be.
Unfortunately, he thought, that isn’t how it is. He looked at the man standing opposite and tried to be positive. “So what now JC?” he said. “These questions need answering.”
“Yes, sir, Mr President,” said Jesus. Although his father was Greek and had been brought up in Old Britain, his mother, a Latin American, had insisted that he be called Jesus: it was a popular name down there, much to his regret. Most people, thankfully, referred to him as JC. He was joint head of the Psychic Intelligence (PI) department, and a career pen-pusher. He didn’t have any particular innate talent for his job, but he had always worked hard, pushing himself mercilessly to avoid failure, and so had reached the top, even if at the expense of his private life. Also, he happened to have developed good so-called ‘psychic’ abilities. It was his report that sat on the President’s desk. “It seems to us that if this invasion is at all imminent, we can expect some reconnaissance missions,” he said. “The defence department is looking for any unusual activity in the solar system. Also, of course, we are doing what we can.”
The President nodded. He wasn’t particularly ‘psychic’ himself, but he was familiar with their various abilities – these days, people were taught in school how to use their minds: a far cry from how it had been in his day. Then, hardly anyone of any importance even believed in psychic phenomena. Now, it was one of his administration’s main modes of investigating just about anything.
Need to know what happened? Send a psychometrist to the scene to ‘feel’ the sensations stored in the stones and other objects. Need to know what’s going to happen? Consult a seer. They get it right much of the time. Want to study a hostile environment on some distant planet or in a foreign embassy? Send an astral traveller to take a look: range 7000 light-years, increasing 1 light-year per year, and no delay getting there. In today’s world there were few secrets: how could there be? While most people had a little psychic talent, about 1 in 200 people had some sort of fairly good ability, and the best could travel wherever they wanted, completely invisible, except to another traveller, sometimes. He knew these abilities were not really ‘psychic’ in the old-fashioned, magical sense of the term. They were some sort of by-product of the ‘Fog’: the intelligent sub-microscopic nanotechnology that saturated the Earth’s atmosphere and that of the 25 other inhabited worlds.
He often wondered how many people watched him go to the toilet every day, even though it was illegal to spy on citizens without a license. Still, you get used to anything, he would think. “Your report says that it is likely to be a Cthphth spaceship,” he said.
“That’s right, sir,” said JC.
“But how can that be?” asked the President. “I thought that the Cthphth weren’t psychic and therefore couldn’t Jump.”
“That’s a popular myth,” replied JC, “but they do seem to manage interstellar travel somehow; otherwise we could not have encountered them yet. As you know, Human Space and Cthphth Space were first known to be overlapping some 10 years ago.”
“Hmm. The Gaia Incident.”
“That’s right, sir.”
“Just what happened then?” asked the President. “I haven’t been briefed on any of this since coming to office. All I remember are the excited news headlines talking about our first contact with intelligent aliens, and that nothing much ever came of it.”
“Well, basically, sir, they were… unfriendly; or at best shy.”
President Myers nodded. “Go on,” he said.
“They didn’t do anything hostile: there was no fighting or anything; but they seemed very reluctant to communicate with us, except in the briefest, virtually monosyllabic manner.”
“How do you mean?” asked the President.
“They initiated no dialogue. They did appear to understand our language, and they answered our questions, but briefly, after substantial delays, and with no added details. They gave the impression of being xenophobic, or perhaps angry or frightened. Indeed, within half an hour of our beginning to communicate with them, they Jumped out of Human Space without warning.”
“But surely you must expect aliens to be a bit strange!”
“Yes, sir,” said JC. “But the result of it is that we know very little about them. They mostly avoid Human Space. Occasionally one of their ships will be spotted doing a survey or something, but they never reply to our communications with anything other than the briefest of acknowledgements. They just leave more or less immediately.”
“So that’s pretty much all we know about them?” asked the President.
“Our astral travellers have been able to investigate the inside of their craft on three occasions, so we know more than they would probably like us to know. We do have one problem with that method, though.”
“Well, sir, they seem to have some sort of psychic shield; on those rare occasions when one of their craft has been seen, our travellers have tried entering their spacecraft on the astral plane, as it were, and have in most cases been rebuffed by unaccountable feelings of unease and impending doom. Only the very best travellers can breach the shield or whatever it is. I have done so only once, and it wasn’t easy to dismiss those feelings.”
“You’ve been inside a Cthphth spaceship?” the President was amazed. But of course, it was the obvious thing to have done. “What did you find?”
“Previous astral travel studies inside their craft had failed to discover whether or not the Cthphth were psychic, mainly because apart from Jumping and planetary surveys, there isn’t much use for psychic abilities on a spaceship. My mission was to find out if they managed to Jump without using psychic powers, and if possible, to find out how the psychic shield worked.”
The President nodded. “Mm-hm.”
“The ship was fairly large, with a crew of about 400. The interior was austere and functional: metal walls, floors etc. There was no sign of anything which could be described as decoration.”
“What did they look like?”
“The Cthphth?” asked JC.
“A bit like centaurs, but snake-like as well. That is, for example, their heads were of the same diameter as their necks, which were in turn elongated and flexible, like a snake’s neck. Their bodies were larger than their necks, though. They had six limbs, which were something like a pair of arms, a pair of legs, and a spare pair between them that were able to double-up as either but were mostly used as a pair of front legs. The limbs were basically tentacles, each about a metre long, but quite strong-looking. On the extremities of each limb were four opposable sub-tentacles, like our fingers and thumbs, but probably more dextrous although perhaps not as strong, although the foot-tentacles may have been; I had no opportunity to find out: they were larger, anyway. Their skin looked hard but flexible, not scaly, but patterned and brightly coloured in reds, yellows, blacks and browns.”
“Could that be the decoration in their lives?” asked the President.
“Possibly, but it looked natural rather than artificial. Also, they wore drab baggy clothing, uniformly grey in colour, and apparently designed to hide their appearance. This struck me as odd at the time, so I tried to infiltrate their minds to see just what their attitudes were.”
“Oh?” President Myers had heard about this sort of thing: it had always struck him as a peculiarly unethical practice. “What did you find?”
“Well, at first it was a bit difficult; they are aliens, after all. But I managed it after a couple of attempts, and I must say, it was extremely unpleasant. Their minds, and I confirmed this by trying the same trick with several of them, are very quick, but also very narrow in outlook. I found that to be a Cthphth was to be like a runaway train; their minds race along at great speed, virtually ignoring any inputs which are not strictly rational. They worry all the time about the trivial problems of life, because hard-line rational solutions don’t generally apply to animal life, and they are not willing to accept any other sorts of answers. Thus choosing whether to have one beverage or another would be a problem to them: there’s no reason to choose one or the other, so they’d choose arbitrarily, or according to social rules, rather than deciding on the basis of which one they felt like.” He avoided mentioning how similar these attitudes were to his own sometimes. Instead he continued, “I don’t know if you’ve ever taken too much caffeine or speed to try and stay awake?”
“Why do you ask?” the President chose to be circumspect in his answer, JC noted.
“Being a Cthphth was very much like being under the influence of too much of it: your mind races out of control, round and round and round; especially when you try and get some sleep afterwards.”
“So,” President Myers said, “at least we know something of how to deal with them should it be necessary: they are compulsively attached to linear modes of thought: am I right?”
“That’s exactly it, sir,” said JC, smiling. “And I think that that explains their drab clothing: they are ashamed of their animal nature. They’d rather be perfect machines, without irrational feelings!”
The President chuckled: he suspected Christofu was just such a person. “And what of your mission? Did you find out how they Jump or how the psychic shield works?”
“Not absolutely definitely, sir. That is, it hasn’t been confirmed by experiment. However, I did find something, and the department does have a theory which accounts for what I and others have seen.”
“Let’s hear it,” said the President, sitting forward in his chair and resting his elbows on his desk.
“Well, as you may be aware, it doesn’t matter much exactly where in a Jump ship the minds that allow the ship to transcend space-time actually are, so I would have had to do quite a bit of exploring and anyway would have had to remain on the ship when it Jumped to see whoever it was that was causing the ship to Jump. As yet, it is not known what happens to an astral traveller on a jumping ship: does the traveller go too? Or is the traveller left behind? What happens if they jump to a point outside Human Space? Well, anyway, what I basically did instead was follow the strength of the psychic shield: if it felt stronger in one direction, that was the way I went. Eventually I found what I would describe as a medical facility: beds, machines, cables, etc., etc., in neat rows, with about forty Cthphth strapped to some of the beds. There were no obvious injuries on any of them. Infiltration indicated that they were mostly suffering from headaches and other such stress symptoms. I didn’t have the opportunity to discover just why the Cthphth couldn’t cure such things.”
“Anyway,” JC continued, “passing through this area, I came to a laboratory of some sort. Along one wall was a horizontal metal cabinet on which were sixteen empty cylindrical jars, about 30cm tall and of similar diameter, with electrodes dangling inside them. I turned around and saw the same arrangement along the opposite wall, except that these sixteen cylindrical jars had liquid in them, and pumps attached to circulate the liquid between the jars and some machinery in the cabinet on which they stood. Also, each jar contained a brain, to which the electrodes were attached.”
“Brains?” asked the President, “What sort of brains?”
“I don’t know what sort, exactly, except that they weren’t human, and they weren’t Cthphth: the feel of the mind was different to that of the Cthphth: it felt much more human; but it definitely was not a human brain: too big. I infiltrated one; I was unable to sense much because it was radiating doom and fear with such great intensity that there was little else I could discover. These brains were obviously the source of the psychic shield.”
“Was it intelligent?” asked the President.
“It probably had been once,” replied JC, “but I think the Cthphth were using these brains as psychic machines or slaves: the electrodes were, I suspect, attached to the pleasure and pain receptors in the brains, and were used to condition them to do whatever the Cthphth wanted. A constant trickle on the pain electrodes would be sufficient to generate the psychic shield. A burst of pleasure whenever the Cthphth want their ship to Jump would get the brains to do it instantly. Obviously it must be more complex than that, but that’s the gist of it, I think.”
The President was horrified. Intelligent creatures reduced to utter slavery: so much so that they lost their minds and became just organic machines. Then he had a thought. “But I thought that higher states of consciousness were required to operate in the psychic mode. How can these mindless automata do anything psychic?”
“Well, that’s one weakness in our theory, sir,” said JC, “but I think that an appropriate electric shock to the correct parts of the brain could induce the state required; we know that certain chemicals are regularly used to produce that effect in humans. Indeed, it may be that the fluid in the jars contained psychoactive chemicals anyway.”
The President pressed his lips together and thought. “Hmm. So what you’re saying is that the Cthphth don’t Jump at all: it’s these other creatures that do it for them.”
“That is probably the case, sir.”
“So in effect the Cthphth are a form of parasite, living off the abilities of others; indeed there’s no such thing as Cthphth Space: they are moving through the Space of these other creatures.”
“But that means… that means that if they could get their hands on some human brains, they could have access to all of Human Space!”
“Assuming they knew where to stick the electrodes, or which chemicals to use, that’s right, sir,” said JC grimly. “There’s some news on that score as well.”
The President raised his eyebrows.
“A few months ago, a Cthphth ship was spotted apparently conducting a survey of the colony world Gaia. As per standing orders, nobody interfered with them. We later learned that in that six hour period, 400 people disappeared. Also, numerous people reported seeing unidentified flying objects.”
“So it’s probably already too late.”
“Yes, sir,” replied JC.
“OK, thank you. Try and find out the whys and wherefores.”
JC got up and walked to the door.
President Myers watched him leave. Alien invasion by a bunch of six-legged octopoids – or was that sextupoids? Hexapoids? Whatever. He was glad the Chiefs of Staff were getting together next week to discuss what action to take. He certainly had no idea. With a sigh, he turned to the more mundane task of thinking of ways to raise productivity in a world where money was obsolete. If there was a war coming up, the Earth would need all it could produce. He had come into office with a mandate to reform the world’s research facilities: maybe a war would make it easy for him to push through some more radical changes. Certainly something was needed to kick-start things a bit: when nobody needed any money to buy what they needed, they didn’t have to work either. Only about three in ten of the population worked at all these days, and they were mostly effectively volunteers: amateurs with little sense of professionalism.
Meanwhile, JC was wondering what to do next. As he made his way back to his office, he pondered the problem. Although the Defence department had found nothing as yet, presumably the Cthphth would be in the Solar System already, finalising their plans; or perhaps a few small survey ships would be hiding out, monitoring the Earth. And what of all the colony worlds? Nearly a third of all humanity lived away from the Earth, mostly on the 25 worlds terraformed in the last century. The Cthphth wouldn’t leave them alone.
But why were they going to attack us at all? Why couldn’t they just cooperate with us? It didn’t make any sense. JC sighed. War never does, he thought.
Well, first things first, he thought. Let’s find them before we start worrying about what to do with them.
Assuming they’re somewhere in the Solar System, he thought, where would they hide? Well, it hardly matters; the Earth-Mind probably knows all about this already. It’s powers are vastly above anything we can comprehend. Trouble is, though, it’s also decidedly inscrutable.
Reaching his office, he sat at his desk and telephoned down to Suzanne, the other joint head of Psychic Intelligence.
He shuffled some papers until she arrived, smartly dressed as usual.
“Hi, JC,” she said, smiling. “How’re things today?”
“Oh, pretty good,” he said as she sat down. “I’ve finally presented our Dreams Report to the President, anyway.”
She nodded. “How’d it go? I suppose he wants to know when the invasion will be.”
JC smiled. “Yes. Have you managed to find anything out?”
“I’ve been communing with the Earth-Mind twice a day and just about getting my brains fused, as usual. But, just for an instant, it showed me that a Cthphth ship has indeed arrived in the Solar System, as we expected. It’s hiding out in close equatorial orbit about Jupiter. I was on my way up to see you about it when you buzzed down.”
“Ah-ha!” JC rubbed his hands together: some action at last! “Was it a warship or a survey ship?”
“I couldn’t tell,” she answered with a shrug. “It was as much as I could do to direct the Earth-Mind’s attention to my concerns at all. All I got was the briefest glimpse of something near Jupiter. Somebody will have to travel up there and take a proper look, I think. I did have the computer on grab mode, but it missed it.”
He nodded. That meant that he would have to go and look. No more stupid desk-work for him today! Well, he wanted to take a look at the Cthphth again anyway. “OK. Have the dreamers come up with anything more yet?” The agency dreamers were one of Suzanne’s innovations; since it had been proven that many people were able to dream of the future accurately, why not use them? So they had developed a corps of people who worked both day and night. At night, the computers would grab scenes from their dreams, and the dreamers themselves would spend the following day sifting through the information in the computers and in their own memories, looking for future facts. One of the things they had learned early on was that the ‘future’ was not fixed; forewarned was indeed forearmed. Suzanne, whose training was in dream research, was in charge of the Dream Factory, as they called it.
“They’ve found nothing concrete,” she said. “The computers have managed to grab some scenes of mass destruction, thick black smoke, monsters: same sort of thing as before. And some large Earth-made spaceship over the Moon, but what that signifies nobody knows. Also, a bright light in the sky, and a large alien spaceship, of course. The time-sequence of these visions is unclear, as usual. Hopefully over the next few days we’ll be able to piece together some sort of coherent sequence of events in time for the Chiefs of Staff meeting, but I wouldn’t bet on it: after all, people have been having apocalyptic visions since the year dot.”
“OK,” said JC, “I’ll leave you to sort that out. I think I’ll go and take a look at that spaceship near Jupiter.”
Suzanne got up to leave, but JC just had to say one thing more: “Er… are you doing anything tonight?”
“I expect I’ll be seeing Joe, as usual,” she said casually, hiding her annoyance. He knows very well that I’m going with Joe, she thought. Why doesn’t that dork back off? She left, and shuddered briefly after closing the door behind her. JC is such a cold fish and he’s got no sense of timing.
JC was annoyed as well. Why did he have to be so stupid? His skin was tingling in embarrassment, and he was sweating. He hoped no-one else wanted to see him for a couple of minutes. What did she see in that excuse for an ape anyway? You’d have thought she’d want someone with brains. Most women seem to be like that, he thought. And then, angrily: Well, they get what they deserve!
He felt he knew what Suzanne saw in Joe: it was his soldier’s physique, of course. And he was kind to her, and wasn’t too afraid to show his feelings. Unlike some people.
JC buzzed through to his personal assistant. “Trev, I’m going travelling for a while. See that I’m not disturbed, will you?”
“Sure thing, JC,” said Trevor’s voice.
JC sat back in his executive swivel-chair. “Computer,” he said.
“Ready,” replied the terminal which crystallised out of the top surface of his desk almost as soon as he spoke to it.
“Grab mode operating,” it replied.
He began the process of relaxing and deep breathing which would wind him down, and get his mind to stop thinking too hard. Within a couple of minutes, he was floating near the ceiling, looking down at his body resting in the chair. As usual, he could see a silvery cord stretching between his astral self and the navel of his physical body, symbolising that they were not in reality separate entities.
Floating up through the ceiling, he soon left the building behind him.
Jupiter, he thought, bringing an image of the planet into his consciousness. Immediately, he knew roughly where it was, and he headed rapidly in that direction. He knew that he could get there instantly if he liked, but he generally preferred to fly at least part of the way on his astral journeys.
The Earth raced by beneath him as he gradually gained altitude, heading out to sea. Before long, the entire planet was suspended below him, glowing like a blue and white jewel against the deep black velvet of space. He looked around at the stars: there were always so many to see from up here, their ancient light no longer filtered out by the Earth’s atmosphere.
Mentally sighing, his slumbering body sighing in sympathy, he decided to get on with his work. He looked across space to Jupiter, and arrived. The gigantic world, with its banded clouds of methane and its perpetual thunderstorms, floated below him, silent, huge, looking close enough to touch. He knew that it was in fact at least 100,000 miles away.
Now, where’s that spaceship? he thought. He had the impression that it was to his right; he already knew that it would be over the equator somewhere. In his mind, an image of the spaceship developed and he moved to it.
Immediately the screaming horror of the psychic shield struck him; back on Earth, his body began breathing heavily and sweating: he had jumped too close. He could feel the anguish of the brains in their jars as the Cthphth used them mercilessly to radiate ill-feeling: he was sure that theory was correct. His body was moaning. The sense of despair and doom was almost overwhelming. He felt that he was going to be crushed between the gigantic Jupiter and the hard spaceship like some rare butterfly beneath a heedless steamroller; as though his life was meaningless and worthless in a dead Universe composed of nothing but lifeless matter. His despair at the thought of his own useless death sapped his will; it made it seem hardly worth moving away from this grinding, unknowing doom. But move away he did. The reflexive impulse came from his body, but it worked just the same.
It had taken only moments for the psychic shield to depress his spirit; it took several minutes for him to recover as he floated, perhaps five hundred miles away from the craft, composing himself, and reminding himself that he did, after all, believe that the struggles of life were worthwhile; that it does mean something; that there is a purpose at work in the Universe; or at least he hoped that there was.
He looked towards the spaceship and realised that even though it was a long way away, he could make it out easily, as it blocked out a patch of stars. It must be huge! he thought. And the psychic shield is strong: I can feel it faintly even at this distance. I wonder if the brains can feel me? I’d better be careful: the Cthphth could in theory use them as psychic detectors as well, I should think. It would simply be a matter of measuring their brain waves; the pattern would be bound to change a little if they noticed me.
Mind you, he thought, those brains have other things on their minds at the moment. Like electricity. His body smiled slightly at the dark humour. They won’t be interested in me.
He began reducing the distance between himself and the spaceship; as he got nearer he could make out its shape in the light reflected from Jupiter’s atmosphere. The ship was spinning slowly on its long axis, and was basically rectangular in cross-section, twice as long as it was wide, and twice as wide as it was thick: like a giant, black tombstone. As he got nearer still, he could see that that description was not quite right: the ends were very substantially rounded; indeed, all the edges were rounded: more like a giant pill than a tombstone, he thought. A remedy for the world.
Unless we can come up with something, he thought, or perhaps even then. He carefully approached to within fifty miles of the craft; the psychic shield was strong enough even at this distance that he had to be careful with his thoughts: despair could creep in all too easily.
Despite its pill-like aspect from a distance, now that he was closer, he could see all sorts of lumps and structures on the surface of the ship. There appeared to be no right-angles at all on the ship’s black exterior. Radar-resistant, he thought. These creatures are familiar with warfare.
Steeling himself, he decided to travel right up to the ship, flying the intervening distance rather than jumping, though: he might not be able to resist the psychic shield and could have to turn back. Zooming in, the pressure of the shield becoming like a silent scream in his being, he began to get a proper feel for the sheer vastness of the alien craft. It must be a hundred miles long! he thought, amazed and horrified. Why do they need such a huge ship? How can we hope to oppose creatures who can build such a thing?
The feeling of humanity’s insignificance swelled in him as he came right up to the ship. It must be the effect of the psychic shield, he told himself; but that didn’t stop the feeling. Nevertheless, he resisted it and began to explore the surface of the ship. Made of metal, he thought, looking at the skin of the craft. A dead ship for a dead people, he thought. Why should I resist the shield? I can’t. And it doesn’t matter anyway. We’re all going to die one day.
His body took a deep breath as he struggled to regain his centre: If I’m going to die I must do my best while I can, he told himself; but the shield kept depressing his thoughts. The feeling of doom and despondency kept taking control of him even as he tried to concentrate on his body’s breathing. It was difficult to do from outside his body, because although it responded to him, he would receive no direct feedback from it. Even so, after a minute or so of controlled, relaxed breathing, his calm centre began to manifest itself, and the pressure of the shield on his thoughts began to decline.
Time to go inside the ship, he thought. He knew that the shield would need to be battled constantly: he would have to concentrate, and merely observe: he didn’t have the conscious capacity to observe, concentrate and think about what he was seeing; the ship would have to be explored on instinct. He reminded himself of his objective: to find out whatever he could about their intentions, especially when they planned to invade or whatever, and how they planned to do it. Also to discover how their weapons worked in order to allow the development of defences.
Fat chance, he thought, and drifted through the skin of the craft.