This is the first in hopefully a series of short stories featuring the Mega-mass...
|Mega-Mass I: The Birth
By: Andy Cabell
Base Commandant Loyola Smith had just finished lunch in the officer’s mess, when the Victory Crater Research Base, on an island in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Texas coast, exploded. Actually, he felt the explosion before he saw or heard it. First there was a blast of heat followed by a wave of air, which nearly knocked him off his feet. He looked in the direction from which the shockwave had come. He saw nothing except for the silent rim of Victory Crater stabbing into the sapphire blue sky. Suddenly, a pillar of flame, ash and sound exploded into the air out of the crater, as if a giant fist had punched through the thin crust of the Earth and let the planet’s fiery blood run out.
Smith brought his basenet in-link to his mouth and yelled, "Commandant Loyola Smith executive order: put all basenet systems on red alert."
Soldiers poured out of the barracks and mess halls as sirens blared and alarm lights began flashing.
Smith’s in-link beeped and said, "Minimal amounts of radiation detected. Enter Curie suits immediately."
He ran to his quarters and burst in, heading with practiced ease for the wardrobe where his Curie suit hung. Most enlisted men thought of the suits as a burden, and an uncomfortable burden at that. It was a large, black, shiny affair, which was designed to protect the soldier from radiation and do little else. When Smith was safely in his Curie suit, he returned outside.
On the basenet, the DP was briefing the nearly five thousand soldiers in base on the length of time the radiation would be a threat. The DP estimated that in twenty-four hours, the radiation would be at a minimum except around ground zero of the explosion.
There was nothing for anyone to do now except wait for the Curie suits to become obsolete. They waited.
* * *
Lieutenant Young jogged the last few meters to the lip of Victory Crater. Soon, he would have to be entombed in one of those blasted Curie suits again and would have about as much freedom as a bacteria in a petri dish. A few seconds later, the rest of his investigation team stopped behind him and joined him in looking down the slope into the crater. Young could not say that it "wasn’t a pretty sight," because there was nothing to be seen except for a handful of pieces of metalloplastic bigger than half a meter. The rest was dust.
Young waved his men into their suits and soon he was suited up himself. They began their descent into the barren crater. When they reached the main blast sight, there was even less to see than from the crater’s lip, without a Geiger counter. The small machine clicked and whirred, scanning for a particular type of radiation. The harmless radiation was created by only one man-made element that was placed in all of the military reactors. This allowed the military to distinguish between a self-destruct and a tactical nuclear strike. The Geiger counter beeped, it had found the radiation.
Young looked at the rubble which surrounded him and thought, why’d they self-destruct, what were they doin’ in there.
* * *
"Alright, good work Young," Commandant Smith hung up the phone and looked meaningfully at his second in command, Thaddeus Sung.
"Self-destruct?" Sung asked with one eyebrow raised.
"Yeah, why would they do that?"
"Sir, what about the automatic basenet resurrection system? Can’t we use that to retrieve the remains of their ‘net?"
"Perfect. Victory Base Dominant Personality, begin ABR process for the basenet of the Victory Crater Research Base."
A voice replied from the walls, "Basenet data resurrection will be completed in three hours. Notification is assured."
"Then again we wait," said Smith with a rye smile.
* * *
"Data resurrection complete. The entirety of the Victory Crater Research Base basenet has been recovered."
"OK, let’s see what we’ve found," Smith said, bending over his comp screen, "DP, bring up the basenet files for the Victory Crater Research Base."
A list of thousands of files scrolled across his screen in chronological order. Smith sat down.
"Let’s see, the Research Base stopped communication about a week ago. I’ll try the head scientist’s logs."
He touched the screen and brought up the files for the previous week’s entries. He typed in the appropriate command code and started to read...
* * *
April 17, 2166
We have received new orders. The president himself has told us to halt our research on the nuclear reactors and to begin the New America Project. None of us know what the project entails, but we will be fully briefed on it in a conference tomorrow. I can hardly contain my excitement. What can our new orders be? How could it be more important than nearly unlimited reactors that can be carried by individual soldiers? I will write a new entry tomorrow after the conference.
April 18, 2166
Our new project is truly epic! At the conference today, the commander-in-chief of all NCSA forces and the president told us what we would be embarking upon with the New America Project. We are to develop a microscopic life fore which will grow into massive colonies at an enormous rate. These colonies will be sent on unmanned missions to other planets and star systems where they will terraform the planet for our use. This could be the beginning of a new era, where our great country will not be confined to this planet, but free to wander the stars. Unfortunately, We will have to cut off all contact with the outside world but that is a small price to pay.
April 19, 2166
12:16PM: The research is going extremely well. We have found our bacteria. It grows at the bottom of the ocean near the volcanic vents. There, the water is superheated, proving their strength. They have one of the fastest growth times of any bacteria, which we can still increase substantially. We are working at the gengineering day and night hoping to get it done as fast as we can.
12:50AM: We did it! We finished the gengineering and we are beginning to run tests on how the bacteria can hold up in some of the most hostile environs we can create in our lab.
April 20, 2166
Today a catastrophe befell our entire research team. Max Bringham, one of the brightest scientists in the whole base, was killed last night. He was discovered lying on the floor of the lab where we were testing the bacteria by two of his aides. At first we were completely baffled by this senseless act of murder, until we did a postmortem exam. Every artery, capillary, and organ was stuffed to the gills with our gengineered bacteria. Our theory is that when he was running the tests, some of the bacteria made it into his body and, given a nourishing place to live, they grew until he was killed by asphyxiation. We are closing down all of our laboratories until we can get a better idea of how to proceed.
April 21, 2166
The investigation is continuing day and night with no leads. None of us have gotten to sleep for almost twenty-four hours. I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I will report on the investigation tomorrow for I am too exhausted tonight.
April 22, 2166
How could this have happened? Last night, I was rudely awakened by one of my aides who got me up and dressed before pulling me out the door into the hallway. We ran down the corridors with other scientists and technicians running beside us. I noticed we were running away from the labs and asked why. My aide explained that our bacteria was attacking, it had killed more then one hundred of our people and was still running rampant through the lower labs. It was growing at a rate even faster than what we had predicted. I am now confined in the most fortified place in the entire facility, my office. We stuffed as many people in here as we could but we could only fit fifty in. Of those fifty, only ten are marines. If I still live tomorrow, then I will write again.
April 23, 2166
We are finished! The bacteria we created have begun its attack on our final stronghold. Throughout the night, we lost radio contact with one base after another. With my office under attack, I have decided to set off the self-destruct, with any luck, all of our bacteria will be incinerated in the blast. God forgive us for what we have unleashed here.
* * *
Smith took a deep breath as he looked up from his comp screen. So they had bred a whole new life form. Young’s team had not reported any sign of a bacterial colony so it must have been destroyed in the blast, like the scientist had hoped.
Smith felt sorry for him. He had labored so hard, and the fruits of his labor were like something out of a science fiction story.
"Sir, you’d better get out here and see this," Sung’s voice interrupted Smith’s reverie.
He pushed back his chair and walked to the door. Outside, a crowd of soldiers stood gawking at something that Smith could not see because of a large barracks. He moved a few steps to his right. What he saw nearly knocked him off his feet.
Bulging out over the lip of Victory Crater was an enormous, pulsing, green mountain. It boggled the mind that something so huge could be alive, which it obviously was. Large pseudo-pods protruded from the mottled purple and green "skin." The whole mass must have been two klicks tall and four wide, filling the crater.
"I want a science team up there on the double. Don’t bring a single cell of that stuff back to the base. None!"
* * *
Well within an hour the research team was at the rim of the crater and were running tests on the massive creature, which was so near to the military base. Smith had ordered the team to keep in radio contact with the base at all times, so their progress, and well being, could be monitored.
“This thing is huge, sir. I… I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like a gelatin, sir, except that there is a semi-hard casing around as a far as we can see. And it looks like all one organism. Then there’s the… wait a second, something’s coming out of the mass. It looks vaguely humanoid. Yes, a head, arms, legs, but no features, its blank. It’s coming this way. Guns ready, soldiers.” A scream rang from the radio before the commander’s voice prevailed once more, “Fire! Kill it! Kill it! Fall back!” Shots, then nothing as the radio gave out.
“Captain, captain!” Smith yelled into the microphone. No response. “Damn it! All soldiers prepare for an attack,” he said, patching into the basenet.
They would be ready for the damn thing when it came.
* * *
Private First Class Terence Mason had been patrolling the base perimeter wall since an hour before dawn. He thought it pointless. How could the thing move to attack them?
With a sigh, he reached the next observation post. He pulled a pair of infrared binoculars from his belt and began to scan in all directions. Suddenly, he saw something move on the slope of the crater. As the picture focused, he saw hundreds of figures moving on the slope.
He raised his basenet in-link to his mouth, “DP, alert all required personnel that a large attack force is converging on our position.”
In seconds, alarms were sounding and soldiers were rushing to their posts, knowing that the enemy would be at the gates within five minutes. The walls bristled with machine guns as thousands of troops waited for the order to fire. Four minutes. Three. Two. The order of “fire” was barked into the ears of forty five hundred humans. From the barrels of those forty five hundred guns a maelstrom of flame and steel swarmed across the advancing enemy.
The biomasses, as the soldiers now called the attackers, were being cut down by swathes of gunfire. In less then twenty minutes the entire invading force was reduced to a pile of dead ooze. The first battle was won.
* * *
At 12:47 the next afternoon, the northern wall of Victory Crater Base exploded. The soldiers scurried like ants whose hill has been stepped on. Through the huge gap in the wall a massive pseudopodium of the bacteria lay pulsing on the ground like a tongue of Cerberus. Bullets from the soldiers’ weapons thudded into the tentacle as if into a side of meat. Then, out of the skin of the tentacle, hundreds of small buds began to sprout. They grew larger and larger until they were definitely humanoid in shape. They broke away from the original and began to attack.
Smith was about to run out of his bunk and join the attack when he was stopped by the voice of Thaddeus Sung, “Sir, I’ve just gotten a message from a fleet of supply ships that is bringing food to the island.”
“Radio them immediately and tell them we need an emergency evacuation as soon as possible.”
Sung was on the radio in seconds and got an answer soon after, “Sir, they’ll be at the dock in an hour.”
“Good, order all soldiers to fight their way to the docks and hold them at all costs,” Smith shouted and ran into the fray.
* * *
Fifty minutes later, the surviving soldiers of Victory Base formed a shrinking perimeter around the docks. By now there were thousands of smaller biomasses, and all of them were swarming against the final human defenses. Finally, the ships, which had been visible for the past twenty minutes, reached the docks and let the doors in their massive hulls open, like arms spread to welcome someone home. The soldiers streamed in as a dedicated few stayed behind to hold of the biomass for as long as they could.
Smith looked out across the water towards the pillars of smoke that rose from the island. His second-in-command, Sung, had not been reported as one of those who had made it to the ship. He had to be dead. Sighing as he looked out towards the American mainland, he thought, what have we released here?
* * *
Four more of the bacterial terrors fell to the hail of bullets from the guns of Thaddeus Sung. He had fought his way to the base’s magazine, losing almost the entire rearguard in the process. He opened the magazine door with his keycard and ran inside followed by the remaining soldiers. Locking the doors again behind him, he jogged to the crate in the center of the nearly empty room while his defenders fought off another wave of invaders. He opened the crate and worked fast, his fingers flying over the number pad.
The LCD display lit up with the numeral “10,” but it quickly turned to “9” then “8.” As the number five appeared, one of the walls burst open, showering all inside with a hail of concrete as fifty bacteria swarmed in, attacking as soon as they cleared the rubble. Sung whipped around with his guns blazing, the bullets smashing into the walls, the windows and the enemy. He let out a piercing yell as the counter reached “0” and flame engulfed the building.