Fiction

Pond Life

It was still dark when Frank Slater’s landline started to ring. Nobody ever called at night and he was careful not to share the number. Frank dragged himself out of bed, grabbed his dressing gown and made his way down to the front hall.

He paused as he reached for the receiver. For a moment, he hoped that they would give up, but the ringing persisted. He picked up the phone and barked, “Hello?”

The answer came from a voice he hadn’t heard for several years. “Frank, thank God you’re there. It’s happening. Car’s on its way, we’re fifteen minutes from you. Get dressed.”

Frank laughed. “Murphy, did the radiation finally burn your brain? I retired.” Murphy had been Frank’s protégé. They had been partners for almost twenty years.

“Frank, you know that there is one circumstance when everybody gets recalled. We have first contact. Reports coming in of multiple landings. Non-friendly. This is it. If you don’t believe me turn on your radio! 10 minutes away, get dressed!”

Frank sank to the floor. This couldn’t really be happening, could it?

“What’s the matter Dad?” It was Frank’s eldest son, always a light sleeper. “That was your old organisation, wasn’t it?” Albert was a smart kid, only 15 years old but already a physics undergraduate; he found online degree courses much more fun than watching television.

“Albert, it appears that the impossible has happened. Either that or Murphy really has lost his mind. He is on his way. Go wake up your sister, family meeting in five minutes. I need to find my work clothes.”

Frank went back to his bedroom and turned on the light and the television. The 24 hour news channel was screaming BREAKING NEWS. Reporters looked truly horrified. Some sort of spacecraft about the size of two double decker buses was sitting in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Thousands of people had been killed in London. Similar stories coming in from all over the world. London, New York, Beijing and Egypt were the first targets.

“Frank, do you know what time it is? Turn the bloody tele off”. Rebecca sat up in bed, staring at the tele while Frank was pulling clothes and bags out of his wardrobe. “Frank, is that a UFO?” Frank paused for a moment to look again at the tele. “Technically, no. It has landed. Maybe we should classify them as ULOs?”

Before Rebecca could respond, the doorbell rang. Frank stormed downstairs, still in his dressing gown, but now carrying a pile of clothes and a couple of bags. It rang again. “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming”. His family, bleary-eyed, looking confused and concerned, followed him down.

“Holy shit Dad, Facebook has gone bonkers, Twitter has crashed, and everybody is saying aliens have invaded. This is a global hoax, surely?”

Frank answered the door. “My God Murphy, you look awful. Take a seat in the kitchen. I’ll make some coffee.” Murphy was in his forties, he had far less hair than Frank remembered and a larger gut, which was noticeable even under his trench coat. He looked totally exhausted, no longer the ball of energy that Frank had started training almost three decades ago.

He followed Frank to the kitchen, acknowledged Albert with a nod and slumped into a chair. “Black, and make it bloody strong like you used to”.

The others joined Murphy at the table. Sally, a few years older than her brother Albert, looked desperate. Back when Frank worked they always had emergency meetings before he had to go off. They were usually during the day. This must be serious and she could remember Murphy well enough to recognise a new level of panic in his eyes. He was only just holding it together; twice he pulled out his cigarettes before remembering where he was.

Albert turned his phone to show Sally the latest news feeds. “I guess this is why we’re here”.

Murphy suddenly lit a cigarette, nobody complained. “Yes, it’s true. Aliens have arrived on Earth and they are slaughtering us. It’s utter carnage. We’re losing every battle, we have no idea why they are here and killing us and we have no idea what to do next.”

While Frank pulled on his work clothes, Murphy went on to explain that approximately 18 hours earlier astronomers reported an anomaly close to Neptune. This was followed by reports of large objects moving at great speed towards each planet. Within fourteen hours, at just gone one in the morning, the alien spacecraft reached the Earth’s orbit. About twenty minutes later, the alien spacecraft released hundreds of smaller craft.

“Drones landed in cities across the world. We don’t know exactly how many have landed, but we have confirmed reports from London, New York, Beijing, Tokyo, Cairo, plus many smaller towns and rural areas. So far there are around a hundred confirmed landings and thousands of reported sightings on the Internet.“

Frank sat down and sipped his coffee, allowing the news to sink in. Murphy went on; Frank could detect a tone of desperation in his voice. “Any attempts to approach the craft resulted in an immediate violent response. The Chinese retaliated with fatal consequences. Satellite images show that half of Beijing has been destroyed; possible nuclear strike. The death toll is immense.

“In the last hour alien life forms started emerging from the crafts. They are killing all military personnel and civilians that they see and have started to enter buildings.

“About half an hour ago a video was posted to social media of a family being slaughtered in their living room. The event was filmed and uploaded to an Instagram page that belongs to a 14-year-old female. We have located her address.”

Murphy pulled a tablet out of his cavernous coat, placed it on the table and played the video. “It’s probably not something you want your kids to see Frank”. Albert and Sally immediately moved around to get a better view.

The high definition video footage showed a large, family living room converted into a slaughter house. A woman was holding a small child while a middle-aged man, wearing just a pair of boxer shorts, tried to beat off a hulking, dark life form with a cricket bat. The alien snapped out an armlike appendage and sliced through them all in a single swift movement. All three were killed instantly. All the time the young female videographer was screaming.

The alien turned towards the camera and advanced, revealing a strange, shimmering surface that blended into the background. It momentarily paused in front of the camera and appeared to scrutinise the videographer.

Murphy continued. “The footage stopped here. It was presumably uploaded at this point, there was no written message.”

Albert was the first to break the silence. “So, what do you want Dad to do? Sounds like we’re in the shit”. Albert was well aware of his dad’s previous work – years of childhood listening to his dad tell stories, which he naturally thought was fiction at first. But later, Albert started to suspect that dad was speaking from experience and he started asking detailed questions. Frank started sharing some case reports, the two of them would talk late into the night. They had a level of trust and understanding between them that few men in Frank’s position can risk with their children.

Murphy answered, “Come with me to that house on Old Queen Street in St. James’s Park. We need to get in and try to learn what they want. The street is apparently secured for now and there is backup, for what it’s worth. Jake will drive us.” Murphy’s attempt at an encouraging grin fell flat, but the news that Jake was behind the wheel provided a little comfort.

Frank drained his mug of coffee. “Well, so much for a peaceful retirement”.

Murphy suddenly looked sombre. “I am sorry Frank, you’re the only person left that’s qualified to help, and you are our last hope.”

Frank looked up. “Well, I always knew what signing up meant; I guess none of us ever really expected this to happen.”

Murphy stood. “Time to go, Frank. Rebecca, as crazy as it sounds, we have been through worse together. Keep yourself out of sight. Do not leave the house. Do not open your windows. Make as little sound as possible. If Frank can’t solve this, I’m not sure anybody can”.

*****

Their car pulled up opposite the grand townhouse on Old Queen Street. Helicopters circled overhead. The street was deserted and many front doors were uncharacteristically wide open. On closer inspection they saw that the doors had been forced. “These aliens are keen to see how we live. Why?”

Murphy was approached by the leader of CO19, London’s finest SWAT team. Frank had never seen them so heavily armed. The officer addressed Murphy. “We have detected movement in the Kunimura residence, where the video footage was shot.”  He turned to Frank; “I hope you can make some sense of the situation. It’s good to see you back”. Frank pretended to recognise him, “Glad to see it’s you leading these recruits”. Frank knew that tonight they were just pawns and by the looks on their faces, they did too.

Frank looked up at the four story home; whatever it was, whatever it wanted, it was still there. “Come on Murphy, let’s do this. I’ll follow you today”.

Frank and Murphy followed their armed escort into the house. These grand London houses were deceptive; they looked like standard homes on the outside, but only because all the homes were equally massive and inside each seemed vast.

They made their way up the staircase, trying their best to step quietly on the marble steps. Each floor was scouted by two soldiers while the rest remained at the foot of the stairs before all ascended to the next floor. When the second floor was being scouted they heard deep rumbling sound emerge from above. They cautiously moved up the stairs.

As they reached the top floor they saw at the entrance to a grand living space the body of a teenage girl, wearing Hello Kitty pyjamas and still grasping her pink mobile phone in both hands. Her abdomen had been ripped open; a single deadly strike had almost sliced her in two. In the room, three more bodies were slumped.

Frank crouched down and carefully took the phone from her hands. Just as Frank started to stand a sudden black flash shot past and he leapt back in fear. It was just the family cat. Frank started to feel he was too old for this game.

Murphy whispered. “Frank, over by the window”.

Frank looked up and saw another cat sitting on an armchair by the window, almost silhouetted by the morning sunlight that was streaming in. At first he did not realise why Murphy alerted him to it.

Then he saw the thing. A huge shadowy figure about twice his size with dark organic-like skin. It was certainly the same alien from the video. It somehow managed to blend into the shadows while still being largely bathed in sunlight, creating an illusion that made it practically invisible. The cat jumped from its perch on the chair and rubbed itself against the alien, unconcerned that the gigantic beast had just ripped apart the previous occupants of the house.

The alien seemed to crouch lower beside the cat and again they heard a deep, guttural rumble and the cat responded with an audible purr and continued to rub itself against the creature.

Just as Frank was about to motion to back off the cat spotted them in the doorway and hissed. The alien turned, slowly at first, as if it was analysing the new guests. In a flash it seemed to change its form and charged at the closest of the SWAT team.

A head, still in its helmet, barely missed Frank as he turned to retreat. The room simultaneously lit with gun fire and smoke while Frank and Murphy retreated downstairs at breakneck speed. By the time they reached the ground floor the gunfire had ceased. The pawns had played their part well.

Frank and Murphy ran to their car. Murphy yelled, “Get us out of here” and before both doors were closed Jake had the wheels spinning and screeched out of Old Queen Street. Jake calmly asked where they wanted to go. Frank spoke. “Get me in front of the PM”.

Frank did not speak again until he was sat before the Prime Minister, his closest advisors and military top brass.

Murphy introduced himself and Frank to the party. The PM met Frank’s eyes. “The mysterious Murphy and Frank. I have heard much about your exploits, gentlemen. So, what have you learned, other than that these aliens are very adept killers? We already know that.”

Frank held the PM’s gaze and spoke just four words. “Kill all the cats”.

Murphy’s jaw dropped. The Chief of the Defence Staff slammed her fists down on the table. “Who allowed this crazy old fool into the room?”

Frank did not look at the Chief; he had no time to waste explaining himself. He kept his gaze firmly fixed on the PM, who spoke next. “Explain yourself. Let’s hear what you have to say.”

Frank stood, clasped his hands behind his back, thoughtfully paced to the end of the table and turned to address the war cabinet.

“Gentleman, have you ever found yourself sitting by a pond and wondering to yourself, which creature is the most intelligent? Is it the majestic pond skater or the solemn goldfish? Or maybe it’s the toad, or the dragonfly? How can we tell?

“These aliens arrived in our solar system little under 24 hours ago. We know nothing about them, but we do know that the nearest planet to us that might support life is Kepler-186f, approximately 490 light-years from us. This tells us something about these aliens – either that they can travel at the speed of light and are very patient, or that they have developed a way to travel faster than the speed of light, which as you and I know, is impossible.

“Now, people have been speculating for decades that it might be theoretically possible to bend space to allow almost instantaneous travel between two points. Unfortunately, for us humans this is just a fantasy. Have you ever stopped to wonder why that might be?”

Everybody in the room looked dumbfounded, everybody except Murphy; a broad smile of understanding appeared on his face. Frank continued.

“Opinion is divided regarding interstellar travel. Some people believe that it’s not possible and never will be, whereas others think that it is but we do not currently understand the physics of our universe.

“These people believe that our failure to understand space and time is simply because our minds are still not capable to comprehending it. In the same way that a dog probably does not understand algebra, humans do not have the mental capacity to understand the universe.

“Now, imagine a creature that is so vastly intelligent that it has managed to solve the mystery of space and time and developed the technology required to manipulate it. If that creature arrived on our planet today, would it immediately recognise that humans are the most intelligent species? Is it possible that it has made a simple mistake?

“The first landings were where? Trafalgar Square, The Forbidden City in Beijing, 42nd Street in New York. Where else? Cairo, yes. What do these places have in common?”

There was a stunned silence. Frank noticed Murphy’s nod and slight smile. He appeared to know the answer. But in that tense moment, his partner remained reverently silent. Good old Murphy, always the brightest of them all.

“Let me tell you; Patience and Fortitude, Landseer’s lions, the Sphinx and the lions at the Gate of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City. Maybe by some improbable coincidence, maybe by design, these aliens all landed by apparent monuments to cats. Why would they do that?

“Presumably they observed Earth when they first arrived during the night. What did they see? A species at the top of the food chain with no predators and with a complex, perfectly designed system to keep them warm, fed and at leisure.”

The Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff spoke up again. “This is absurd! If they have observed us at all, they will have seen most of humanity hard at work, not at leisure!”

Frank turned to her. “Exactly, they would have seen humans hard at work, supporting over ten million cats in the UK alone, with humans dedicating their lives to keeping them comfortable. We even build monuments to honour them. The pattern is repeated all over the world.”

Her jaw dropped. Frank loved making the top brass speechless.

Turning back to the PM he carried on. “This morning I witnessed an alien attempt to communicate with a cat. At the same time it treated humans as worthless pests.

“We need to send a clear message to the aliens that we’re in command here, not the bloody cats! I am sure that the quickest way to send that message is to kill every damn cat and destroy every monument to cats.”

The stunned silence returned. The PM spoke. “Unless somebody can come up with a better plan we should follow the advice of our experts. Send out a command to kill every cat in the country. Transmit on all available channels.”