Sit-Ups of the Space Marines
by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith
The past few days have been rather hectic and maybe first I should apologize for the panic we displayed here at our tiny space colony. We’re very far from Earth and feel very isolated which makes for exaggerated reactions to the inevitable small emergencies which crop up from time to time.
When Martin and Abby came back with those things attached to their faces... well you know what we thought it was going to be. We thought it was going to be that old story about destructive space aliens with plunging teeth bent on conquest and domination. We thought we were going to have to “hot needle test” each other’s blood and also throw buckets of flaming kerosene at James Arness; we thought tiny green specks of mold might start growing on our hands and ears; we thought one of us would have to have his mind expanded using Krell technology... only... well, none of that happened...
What did happen was this: Martin Stubin and his wife Abby were digging ore with about three other people, and they uncovered a big egg thingy, and they were looking at it and one of them said, “Look, the insides are moving.”
And then one of them touched the egg and the top opened... ever so slowly... and out jumped these spidery, octopus, snow-crab things and they were instantly, explosively, attached to their faces, I mean to Martin’s and Abby’s faces. And it turns out the creatures did lay eggs in their throats... only... there the story takes a little bit of a twist.
After the creatures detached themselves from Martin and Abby we were pretty happy. That evening we were eating spaghetti and sauce. Our cook is an excellent cook. He made us a special dinner after Martin and Abby got free of their monstrous masks.
Our cook made some real good sauce, all day long we could smell it simmering and he made garlic bread with Swiss cheese on top, which I’m telling you, is much better than it sounds, and the cook opened some excellent wine, but still had tea and grape Flavor Aid also available, because he knows some of the guys like grape Flavor Aid.
Anyway it was dinner for twenty, and we were all sitting around a big table having spaghetti and laughing and suddenly Martin starts coughing and making faces and it looks like he’s choking... And then he’s really having trouble... and he stretches out on the table and Kim from the medical department starts pounding him on the chest, and even though it isn’t standard Heimlich, a big meatball flies across the room and Martin says, “whoosh-damn” the first part being air and the second part being his assessment of being pounded right in the sternum...
And so he begins to breathe again, and Abby walks over with a paper towel to pick up the meatball ’cause it came from her husband and she’s used to cleaning up for him, and looking down she notices her hand. Between her pinky and her ring finger there’s a little bulb, about the size of a small grape. Still, Abby picks up the wayward food and throws it away, and then she takes her hand over to Kim.
“What is this?” Kim asks as Abby places her hand in view.
“I don’t know,” Abby says. “But that area has been itching ever since that thing came down off my face.”
Kim takes her to the infirmary, and after a bit of prodding the grape comes loose and Kim places it in a pail of water. Later she couldn’t tell anyone why she thought it made sense to place the thing in water, but it must have been the right thing to do as it had very startling results.
We watched it grow. Like those compressed sponge things that grow in water and become fake fish with red and yellow stripes, or GI Joe soldiers, or half-naked mermaids; the grape scraped from Abby’s hand got bigger by the minute.
In the meantime, Martin went to his room and looked himself over very carefully, looking for a knot or bulge... or the tiny mark of any alien kind. When he didn’t find anything unusual, he didn’t relax with the information; he just sat on the edge of his bed in a position that made him resemble “The Thinking Man,” a statue from long ago.
Life in the space station went on as usual. Our synthetic life science officer kept rolling up all the magazines, rolling them real tight so the pages would be curled and you had to hold them flat to see the news from Hollywood...
And then the computer turned off the life support to some men we had in storage... Later, the mining corporation sent some hired killers out to assassinate our chief of police... And still later we dug up a big black slab of radio that seems to be an alien artifact.
One day, Kim asked me to go to the infirmary. I went with her. Abby and Martin were there. Three space marines were there. Gort was there, and so was Robby the Robot. And there was a creature there. It was golden. Mystical. If I said it looked like an insect, a praying mantis with that triangular head and graceful motions, you’d never get the proper sense of it... More like I was meeting a unicorn or meeting Byron the famous English poet, off when he was still a teenager and looking at the world like it all rhymed and all made sense.
I walked past the crowd and stood close to the sharp, small visitor. For a second it opened up wings, like soft prisms, for they converted all the light in the room into yellows and red and blue, but only for an instant, like a brief look at a tapestry of stars.
“Who are you?” I asked while holding my hand out in case it dazzled me again. And it put its hand out like mine and seemed to curtsey, which was a better answer than any name could have been.
“Who is it?” I asked, while looking back over my shoulder, not caring who answered.
Kim answered. “It came from Abby’s hand. It started as that little bump.” Kim had more to say. “We know it’s intelligent. We think it’s trying to tell us that it’s come to us from before the Big Bang. I think it’s trying to tell us it’s eternal in its own way. It must have found a way to outlive the older eras when everything gets scrunched and then expands again and then slows and turns back to the source and starts over.”
“Sure,” I said. “Naturally,” I said.
The creature didn’t talk. That’s going to be hard to explain because it said so much to us. Like a cruel spider says, “Leave me alone” without resorting to words, this golden creature told us it was the remnant of an advanced civilization. It told me and Kim it was sorry it had to resort to being delivered by face-gripping methods. The face-grabbing creatures are used by many civilizations, it said. They’re like the courier serivice of ‘The Local Group’.
“What do you want?” Kim asked.
And the creature went to the desk and took a pencil and it knelt down and started drawing chemical formulas and maps and some kind of double helix bent into a Moebius strip, and then it drew itself and next to itself an empty space, and it turned to us and the look on its face was one of longing and anticipation.
“Is someone missing?” Kim asked.
The creature curtsied.
“At least it’s polite.” I said.
“Do you need something?” Kim asked.
And the golden creature looked bemused. It had a look on its face like it was trying to teach a baby how to drive a car. It was patient with us. I guess that comes from outliving the universe.
We were all thinking hard and watching as it sketched and made gestures and stood on one leg and reached up towards the light. We eked out the meaning slowly, but were pretty sure, once we had the tale, that we understood.
Robby the Robot’s brain was clicking away and Gort’s eye was washing back and forth and the space marines were off at a table playing that game where someone puts their hand open on the table and one of the other marines stabs a star shaped pattern into the table with a very big knife.
Abby and Kim summarized. “What we have is the herald. Bright in its own way, it is the creature that helps the second creature arrive. The second creature, the emissary, once it arrives from eternity, will be able to speak. It will be able to tell us everything of value, held over from before our times.
“It will teach us more than we can imagine, and it will sing us songs of stars being born, and tell us tales of daring and enterprise. The herald says all that we need to do is to let the herald touch Martin’s hand in the same place where the bump grew on Abby. Then in a few hours the new bump will form and then we immerse Martin’s hand in water and the process begins, much like the process that brought the bright wings flashing.”
“Wow,” Kim said.
Saying, “I should really check on Dr. Smith, I don’t trust that guy,” Robby the Robot left the room.
Abby knew her husband well. “Mine didn’t hurt a bit,” she said holding up her hand and wiggling her fingers. “And the creature says you are the only conduit. Only you can do this. You have half the seed inside and the herald passes the remaining element.”
Kim said, “This will usher in a new age.” She was staring at Martin.
Martin looked at his hand.
The golden creature crossed the room, gliding like Scarlet O’Hara approaching Rhett Butler at the point in the movie where they were both seemingly in love.
Martin moved his hand and placed it behind his back. “I don’t want to,” he said.
“But Martin...” Kim began...
One of the marines thought about blocking the door as Martin approached, but he hadn’t been given any orders.
Gort considered using his big red eye... only he didn’t think it would help.
“It’s my hand,” Martin said as he walked away.
And they knew it was his right to refuse.
Dejected, the golden creature collapsed onto the floor. Slowly, like a soufflé with structural problems, it melted down into a pile of grey mush.
The space marines spent the rest of the evening doing push-ups. Gort practiced obliterating solid objects by focusing his red eye. Cook spent some time organizing his recipes. Martin watched some TV. They did what they wanted to do.
You will know free will exists only if you see a creature reject the bright and beautiful.
Copyright © 2008 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith