A friend suggested offering longer excerpts that give readers a better idea of the story rather than the shorter ‘sound bite’ bits I posted before. If anyone has a preference or would like to see more excerpts please feel free to post a comment. As always, anything pulled from my novels is still covered by the original copyright.
third in the Martian Symbiont series
By Phyllis K Twombly
Excerpts from the novel
by author Phyllis K Twombly
A raccoon followed the scent of people through its territory on the outskirts of town. Darkness had fallen. Although the animal’s sight had already adjusted it preferred to use its sense of smell. The aromas of pine needles, foliage, and dirt could never mask that of humans. It had recognized the odd looking one as a recent source of tidbits…not enough to quit foraging but worth seeking out anyway. She was accompanied by other humans who didn’t seem the least bit concerned about offering any tidbits. Still, any worthy forager generally did well to follow members of a species that sometimes contributed snacks to the larder.
The scent seemed to change as if something wasn’t quite right. The animal sniffed harder as they came upon an old cabin. The humans went inside, not an altogether unexpected development. Since the nearby garbage can offered no new smells, the raccoon continued to watch the cabin and sniff the air. The dim glow from the shaded window made little dent in the darkness as if the light itself sensed something amiss. The raccoon rose to its hind feet. The friendly scent became tinged with an odor of dread. The raccoon sensed a sinister aggression from the humans it didn’t know. It backed several feet away from the cabin before it turned and fled into the woods.
Muffled voices filtered through cracks in the cabin’s rough exterior. They barely disturbed other wildlife in the area.
“Why haven’t you sedated it?” a female asked.
“Her parasite expels everything we inject,” a male voice answered.
“I’m having second thoughts,” another male offered.
“Oh grow up,” the female growled. “This is for the good of humanity. Your grandchildren will hail you as a hero.”
“I’m not feeling very heroic. She doesn’t seem like much of a threat in spite of her appearance,” the first male objected.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do this…”
The female voice filled with contempt. “If you’ve lost your nerve just give me the laser saw. Got any last words, Mutant? No? Good, since nobody would want to hear them anyway.”
A horrible scream filled the night air. Then, silence.
Kelly and Andrea sat in padded black office chairs in front of a large metallic and chrome desk. The entire set resembled an ultra modern combination of business office and conference room. The show’s title, ‘Smart Interface,’ was portrayed in large iridescent metal script stretching the length of the desktop behind them.
The studio audience chatted among themselves. They were all adults wearing various forms of business attire. Most of them exhibited free flowing red swirls in their skin. A buzzer sounded and they all fell silent.
“Two minutes, ‘Rea!” a disembodied voice called out.
“It’s ‘Andrea,’” she called out in response. “I’m sorry you heard that, Matriarch. Andy thinks it’s funny to call me ‘Rea…’
“Which is an extinct bird, Andy,” she called out.
Kelly tapped the back of her hand. “You don’t have time for this…which is exactly why he does it. Why don’t you fire him?”
Andrea gave an exasperated sigh. “I’m sure he has his reasons. I’m so high strung, maybe his teasing helps me focus…”
“Thirty seconds, ‘Rea!”
Kelly raised her eyebrows in sympathy. “He has the symbiont. I could order him to tone it down.”
Andrea broke into a smile. “What, you’d tell a human to stop picking on the Martians?”
“Something like that.”
“You know, I just wish he’d skip the countdown. It’s not like we’re taking off into space.”
“Not yet, at any rate.” Kelly winked at her.
“Five, four, three…” The last signals were silent.
Andrea’s face lit up the brightest Kelly had ever seen. “Good Morning, Martianville! I’m Andrea Smart and you’re viewing a brand new segment of ‘Smart Interface!’ We have a very special guest today, Kelly Ravell, the Martian matriarch.” She turned to Kelly. “Welcome to the show, Matriarch.”
Kelly’s face filled with red swirls as she put on a dignified smile. “Thank you, Andrea. I’ve enjoyed your show very much and it’s great to be here.”
Andrea practically vibrated. “Oh, I love having viewers as guests. Tell me what you like about the show.”
“For starters, you’re a very likeable media personality. You complement that with intelligent dialogue presented in a very entertaining format. It’s fun on the air.”
Andrea beamed. “Fun on the air…you know, I think I’m going to adopt that as my new slogan.” She glanced at a cue card being held up for her. “Although I’m afraid today’s interview topic may fail to be very entertaining due to the serious nature of our discussion. Normally I would leave such an issue to other talk shows but as someone who considers herself a Martian I felt compelled to address it. As anyone who keeps on top of current events knows, there was a recent attack on one of the members of our Martian community. Tell us about that, Matriarch.”
Kelly tensed. “At midnight on Sunday, the twelfth, my niece Lucille was attacked by members of the underground. The symbiont had caused her to mimic some of the alien DNA of her husband, Lyle. Consequently she developed wings. Lyle’s species is highly adaptable when faced with a lack of females; it can rewrite female DNA of other species. We’ve been trying to understand the genetic recoding for years, with limited success.”
“What exactly did the underground do to Lucille?”
Kelly bit her lip. She inhaled sharply before responding. “They cut off her wings.”
The studio audience gasped. Red swirls moved in agitation in the skin of most of those who had the symbiont. A few people passed out.
Andrea swallowed hard and cleared her throat. “I must tell our viewers that some of our studio audience here has passed out. We were expecting that. We have trained personal in attendance. If people near you have also passed out please tend to them immediately. They should be alright in a few minutes but may be disoriented at first. Matriarch, tell us why this happens when we talk about Lucille’s attack.”
“It is one of the few disadvantages of being the matriarch. Lucille initially passed out from the pain of the attack…”
“You mean they didn’t even sedate her?”
A collective gasp rose from the audience.
“The symbiont refuses to allow harmful substances to enter the body of its host. Even when surgery is necessary…”
“Which is rare these days…” Andrea interjected.
“It’s impossible to sedate someone unless they’re in full agreement with the procedure and trust the doctors who are operating.
“Now, getting back to why some of your audience passed out, apparently it’s only when I talk about the incident that this happens. As matriarch, my symbiont tends to coordinate the various aspects of telepathic communication for the Martian community.”
“What about humans with the symbiont?”
Kelly nodded. “They are included. There was speculation about latent human telepathy long before the Martians came back. When Lucille was attacked it created a telepathic shock wave that affected everyone with a human brain. The children concerned us the most because they wouldn’t stop crying for hours. Unborn infants that didn’t have the symbiont were not protected and aborted spontaneously.”
Andrea nodded angrily as she clenched her fists. “My cousin was expecting and lost her first baby.”
Kelly patted her hand. “As you’re aware, the differences between Martians and humans have been diminishing over the past twenty years. The more the Martian community marries into the human community the fewer differences there are. Perhaps that’s what disturbs the underground the most.”
Andrea folded her hands in her lap. “You know, I think ‘disturbed’ is the perfect word for them.”
Kelly winced. “At any rate we would like to ask the public to limit its discussion about the attack on Lucille. I know the Martian community will give me full compliance, as will humans with the symbiont. We’re asking for anyone who doesn’t have the symbiont and wasn’t involved in the attack to refrain from saying anything further about it.”
“Doesn’t it worry you that the underground will accuse you of restricting freedom of speech?”
“I’m sure they will. But at some point human egos will want to boast about the attack and it will make them far easier for authorities to locate if no-one else is talking about it.”
Andrea drew imaginary little circles in the air with her finger. “Why not just read everyone’s thoughts and locate the attackers that way?”
“It’s not that simple. There are far too many minds to read. Besides, no-one with the symbiont could be involved unless their symbiont was corrupted and that would come to my attention immediately. That leaves humans and the few Martians who don’t have the symbiont. I cannot read their minds without permission without violating the constitution, specifically, ‘freedom of speech.’”
Andrea nodded. “Freedom of speech has been extended to include freedom of thought since the spread of the symbiont.”
Kelly smiled thinly. “The Martian community has always been willing to obey enlightened national laws and further the cause of personal freedoms.”
Andrea leaned forward. “What about Martian laws?”
Kelly leaned in a bit in response. “There is an American embassy here in Martianville just as there is a Martian embassy in Washington. We’ve been working in cooperation with other governments around the world to coordinate laws wherever possible. Usually if something is illegal for a Martian it is also illegal for a human and the reverse is true. The exceptions that do exist are those necessary for independent functioning of either community. This is why knowing your rights has become the responsibility of each and every citizen. Even an embassy won’t help you if you’re trying to claim you weren’t made aware of your rights.”
“Where are some of your other embassies located?”
Kelly looked serious. “Do you think I should tell you? The underground might be listening.”
Andrea’s mouth fell open. Then she spotted the red swirls in Kelly’s wrists and the grin on her face. “Oh, I can’t believe I fell for that.” She looked at the studio audience, several of whom were still laughing.
Kelly raised an eyebrow. “We have embassies in most developed countries, which now include many of the former ‘third world’ countries. The symbiont has allowed us to bring about peace and stability to nations that were in the worst shape before.”
“Yes, how did that happen?”
“Most of the warlords and dictators simply lost interest in greed and hatred when they developed the symbiont. Real leaders quickly stepped forward and took over. They contacted whoever the symbiont indicated might help them.”
“I understand many of the ‘pre-symbiont world’ problems were a result of tribalism and bad religion.”
“Those were two of the contributing factors. There was also sexism, racism, the drug trade, piracy, communism, environmentalism…”
“Environmentalism? I thought taking care of the environment was a good thing.”
“On the face of it, yes. But like many things it got into the wrong hands far too often. People posing as scientists made misguided attempts to limit personal freedoms for the individual. Then there was the move to end oil dependency by growing grains for fuel which took land away from food crops. Some countries kept taxing people for waste production instead of helping eliminate the waste or developing ways to recycle it. Without the symbiont it was much easier to look for financial ‘trade-offs’ instead of taking real action. The symbiont helped us focus on switching to electric, solar, and wind power instead of merely minimizing the problems of pollution from fossil fuels.”
Andrea looked around the studio for affect. “Twenty years ago this studio would have looked far more electronically ‘sophisticated.’ It would have been built and furnished with a lot of single-use items that would eventually end up in landfills. Today, everything has been environmentally justified, from an item’s previous use to what it can be turned into in the future.” She held up a coffee mug. “The discovery that used coffee grounds are a rich source of oil for biodiesel made a huge difference.”
Kelly looked around approvingly as she lifted her own coffee mug. “I’ll drink to that. As Martians, we’re very pleased at the human effort that has gone into ensuring this planet will thrive. We’re also grateful that we’ve received so much assistance in our attempts at reviving the planet Mars. Once we leave for space it will be up to those who stay to continue that work.”
“It was good of the Martian community to share its gyroscope technology with Earth’s scientists. That dramatically reduced the need for fossil fuels, especially for space shuttles. What can you tell us about that?”
Kelly shrugged. “Not a lot. I’m not a scientist. Besides, human research had already uncovered the basics but the symbiont interface is what caused it to work for us. You know interstellar space travel requires speeds that are impossible for older technologies…”
“You mean for older Earth based technologies.”
“Of course Martian space technology is vastly superior and has been for thousands of years. But if you want to be that specific I should point out that Martians originally developed the first of those technologies while still on Earth thousands of years ago. Slow progress is still progress.”
It was Andrea’s turn to shrug. “Semantics, as you might say. Just how fast can your mother ship go?”
Kelly’s face went blank. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.”
Andrea waited to see the red swirls return to Kelly’s face. “As a Martian myself I understand the trust that exists in the Martian community, especially where the symbiont is concerned. But non-Martians might see that as a very indifferent attitude. How could the matriarch not know the top speed of her own ship?”
“In deep space we talk in terms of time, or how long it takes to arrive at our next destination, not distance. However I can tell you that we depend partly on almost continuous acceleration. The vacuum of space is kinder to spaceships than you might expect.”
“What about centrifuge? If you travel that fast won’t you be pinned to your own interior walls by it?” Andrea leaned back against her chair and gripped the armrests.
Kelly chuckled at the mental image. “Fortunately, the symbiont feeds all that energy directly back into the gyroscope network. But you should grab a buddy when we start to slow down.” She winked as the studio audience laughed and applauded.
Andrea waited for the reaction to die down. She glanced at a cue card. “What about technologies the Martians don’t seem willing to share? The energy transportation of living matter and people is one example. The underground has complained about the fact that Martians refuse to fully disclose the science of this marvelous achievement.”
Kelly winked at her. “They also blame us for closing down several of their favorite bars. The symbiont doesn’t crave the taste of alcohol very often.”
The audience roared with laughter.
Kelly grinned. “We think it’s safer to keep that particular bit of technology under tight control. It’s not that we worry about losing track of the underground…which might be their motivation for wanting it. The symbiont itself holds the person’s sub-molecular structure together during transportation. Either the individual being sent or the person operating the equipment must have a symbiont.”
“What if they don’t?”
Red swirls filled Kelly’s face as someone just out of the camera’s range handed her a large red tomato. She held it at arm’s length. “Imagine this tomato is the individual waiting to be transported. He or she doesn’t have the symbiont. No-one working the equipment has the symbiont. This is what happens.” The camera zoomed in as Kelly gave the tomato a quick hard squeeze. Big juicy chunks of the red vegetable exploded in all directions.
Andrea recoiled as she used her hands in a vain attempt to shield her outfit.
The audience gasped.
The camera continued to focus at the mass of seeds and juice oozing from Kelly’s hand as she explained. “Most DNA cannot withstand the initial compression that’s a necessary part of the process. There’s simply no way to reconstruct connective tissue once it’s that badly damaged. It would like trying to put this tomato back together. All parts of it are still something we’d identify as tomato even on the cellular level, but…”
“I see.” Andrea was dabbing at her blouse with a tissue that had been handed to her. “Now, Matriarch, I know this is changing the subject but I have to ask: how do you handle the celebrity status that was thrust upon you when you became the Martian matriarch?”
Kelly frowned slightly. “I don’t think it’s the same as a ‘regular’ celebrity would face. I don’t have to worry about my hair and makeup being perfect all the time and I don’t seem to appear in the tabloids much. When I do it’s the standard ‘I married an alien’ stuff. I guess it’s more like being a celebrity in Canada. You get recognized but not mobbed by the press or anything. Everyone’s been polite and respectful. I don’t think I’ve been asked for an autograph in months.”
Andrea smiled. “I think we can change that, right everyone?”
The studio audience clapped and whistled.
Skye scowled at the view screen in her apartment. “I wouldn’t mind sending every Martian I know about through that matter transfer thing, symbiont or not. At least we’d be rid of them.”
Malcolm moved his lips as he looked at the screen. His bulk filled most of Skye’s sofa. “That reminds me. I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry. Ever feel tempted to have that ‘doctor’ of yours fix your metabolism?”
Malcolm took a deep breath and forced himself to his feet. The sofa groaned its relief. “What, and lose the respect of the underground?”
“The thyroid pills don’t seem to be helping.”
Malcolm was half way to the kitchen. “I think they’re giving me a placebo.”
Skye looked horrified. “What? Why?”
Malcolm mumbled something from the depths of the fridge.
Skye shook her head and waited for him to come back. She crossed her arms in front of her as he returned. “I asked why they’d give you a placebo.”
Malcolm offered her the tub of ice cream as he licked his spoon. She shook her head. He shrugged. “Dunno. It might be to make the drug companies more money. They don’t have that many customers these days. People with the…those infected with the symbiont don’t seem to get sick very often.”
“Yeah, right. Five or ten years after the Martians leave we’ll find all the bodies of the symbiont’s victims.”
Malcolm froze in his attempt to scoop out more ice cream. “We will?”
Skye began pacing. “I discovered there’s a Martian operative named Lucas who’s been spending a lot of time in developing countries. It’s the perfect place to hide all the corpses of underground operatives like us once they’ve hunted us down and completed their experiments.”
Malcolm blinked. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.” He looked at his melting spoonful and quickly stuck it in his mouth.
Skye warmed to her topic. “It’s one of the oldest rules in warfare: don’t experiment on your own troops, use the enemy’s. According to my records there should be nearly seven hundred million bodies of underground members who have disappeared over the past twenty years.”
Malcolm waved his spoon around. “But members of the underground who get the symbiont don’t disappear. They just…change.”
Skye shook her fists. “How can you say that? The Martians have admitted all along that they have cloning technology. And what with the symbiont’s ability to read minds a clone could act exactly the way people expect him to.”
Malcolm’s eyes narrowed. “I see. Yes, I see, that would explain the changes in behavior, wouldn’t it?”
“Of course. It would also explain all their ‘miraculous’ cures, since Martian clones don’t come with human diseases.”
Malcolm smiled at her. “More Martian propaganda refuted. Well done, Skye. It’s too bad the underground can’t pay you more.”
Skye tilted her head to one side. “The underground doesn’t pay me at all. It’s too bad my job doesn’t pay me more. It’s not easy, practically working for pennies when currency is so badly devalued. I would be much wealthier without Martianomics.”
“Ah, well…” Malcolm put the ice cream down on the coffee table and pulled out his wallet. He handed her a wad of bills. “I did get a raise this week. I will admit all you have to do to get one is to hint that you might be in need of a bit more cash. The Martians will practically throw money at you.”
Skye looked mortified. “Martian charity? Whatever happened to your human pride?”
Malcolm winked at her as he closed her hands around the cash. “I think I might have swallowed it a few times.” He patted his bulging belly. “It seems to be fattening.”
Skye rolled her eyes. “Whatever. The only question now is whether we reveal the Martian conspiracy now or after they’ve left.”
Malcolm was back into the ice cream. He gestured with the spoon as he spoke. “Why not wait until they’ve left? No sense in exposing our people to unnecessary persecution. Besides, it will give us more time to gather evidence.”
Skye raised an eyebrow. “Evidence? Why would we need evidence when the truth is so obvious?”
Malcolm swallowed the contents of his spoon in order to speak. “Whoops, slight head rush there. Okay, you and I see what the Martians are up to in replacing underground members with clones. But it might not be so apparent to your average human being of only average intelligence. Then there’s the current popularity of the Martians. They’ve ingratiated themselves worldwide. Even you must admit they’ve helped mankind make a lot of progress…”
Skye crossed her arms in front of her. “I admit nothing of the kind. All of their ‘advances’ are merely ideas stolen from real humans before they killed them.”
Malcolm put the ice cream down on a coffee table. He walked up to her and placed his meaty hands on her shoulders. “Skye, you know we’ll have to have some proof of all this before anyone else will take us seriously.”
She glared at him. “Sometimes I wonder where your loyalties lie.”
He backed up and sighed. “You win. I’ll see you next week. Just don’t forget how popular the matriarch still is. And it wouldn’t hurt if you were to play along a bit whenever Martians are around.”
She narrowed her eyes as he shut the door. “I always win.” She looked up at the screen which showed Kelly signing whatever books and papers the studio audience handed her. Skye’s look darkened. “And I’ll defeat you too, ‘Matriarch.’”
Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly