Wa-a-ay Out There!
Somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike
August 16, 1994 2:13 PM
“What’s your freakin’ problem, you nutcase!” bellowed Special Agent Fox Mulder, honking the horn of the government-issue, American-made car he drove.
Dana Scully jolted to awareness and glared at her oblivious partner, who was staring in offended disbelief at the city bus that had just cut him off at 70 miles an hour.
Moments before, she’d leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes; not tired, but bored after miles and miles of Jersey Turnpike. She’d been on the verge of drifting off when his yell of outrage pulled her back to wakefulness. Not that she thought he was yelling at her—he’d been haranguing “those crazy Jersey drivers” since they hit the Turnpike almost three hours ago. It was part of the reason she was bored.
“I do wish we’d flown up,” she said. “It’s ridiculous. We could have rented a car at Newark Airport.”
“Departmental budget cutbacks; this case isn’t high enough on the priorities list to justify the expense of two airline tickets and a rental,” Mulder said. “Not that X Files is being harassed by the upper echelons,” he added sarcastically.
“Politics,” Scully sighed, “not your strong suit. Nor mine, when it comes right down to it.”
They were headed for, of all places, the swamps located south of Secaucus, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City. Investigating swamp gas!
Who could Mulder possibly have offended this time? Scully asked herself. The list was endless.
Suddenly, she grinned briefly, turning her face to the window so that Mulder couldn’t see her smile. He’d want to know what was so funny and would pester her until she told him. She was remembering what he’d called the bus driver who’d cut him off. It was a noteworthy occasion when Special Agent Fox “Spooky” Mulder got to call someone else a “nutcase.”
* * * * *
August 16, 1994 2:13 PM
“Peter, I don’t like this. In fact, I really, really hate this!” Ray Stanz slumped in the back seat of Ecto 1, looking uncharacteristically glum. He spoke to the back of the head directly in front of him, but the owner of same, Dr. Peter Venkman, ignored him.
Peter pointedly buried his nose in the huge map of the New York City/Northern New Jersey highway system he had spread across the dashboard, making believe he was taking his job as navigator seriously—what did these people want from him, anyway?
The Ghostbusters were on their way to film a Special News Report for the WOR 9 News report and, as the superstation was located in Secaucus, were fighting the usual mid-town Manhattan traffic on their way to the Lincoln Tunnel. There’d been reports of “something funny” going on in one of the local swamps; so one of the reporters had approached Peter, offering the Ghostbusters some free PR for a good sound-bite. They planned to wave a PKE meter around a bit, explain why there was nothing wrong at the swamp, and be shown waving ‘bye-bye’ from the windows of Ecto 1 as they drove off into the sunset: the usual feel-good puff-piece news shows liked to run at the end of the show. Not a lot to ask for in exchange for what amounted to a free ad during prime time.
“Ray, what’s with you? You’ve been crabbin’ since we left headquarters,” Ecto 1’s driver, Winston Zeddemore, said over his shoulder, keeping an eye on the sea of yellow cabs that seemed intent on playing ‘bumper cars’ with him. “The traffic’s bad, but no worse than the usual mid-afternoon nightmare–Hey! Whatchit, fool!” This last was aimed at an idiot in a red Corvette who was apparently trying to beat them to the red light and was willing to lose some paint in the attempt. Winston’s hands clenched on the wheel in a gesture Peter recognized—he was obviously resisting the urge to fling a one-fingered salute at the yuppie scum.
“Winston, Peter’s dragging us down to Secaucus to investigate swamp gas! We all know this is just one of his silly PR schemes! Egon, you of all people should be on my side! Why aren’t you complaining?” He jabbed his seat-mate, Dr. Egon Spengler, in the ribs with an elbow as he said this.
Egon adjusted the red-rimmed glasses perched on his nose and eyed his scientific cohort dubiously, but was otherwise unruffled. “Actually, Ray, I was quite looking forward to our brief sojourn in the Secaucus swamps. It will be fascinating to see how the local factories’ toxic discharge has affected the indigenous fungi.”
There was a momentary stunned silence, then:
“Peter! You tryin’ to kill us?!”
“Toxic waste?!—just how toxic is this toxic waste, anyway? Peter!”
Well, he thought wryly, how nice. They were letting him know how much they appreciated his enterprise, and at top decibel. He was, after all, the most enterprising Ghostbuster. He sighed and pulled the map over his head. Even if traffic picked up, it was going to be a long trip to New Jersey.
* * * * *
Just outside Secaucus, New Jersey
“So… where does one park in a swamp?” Mulder had pulled off at the exit noted in the directions faxed to their office by the local state police and the two agents found themselves bouncing over a roadway that was little more than a trail. Hubcap-deep in weeds, they drove past abandoned shacks and the occasional smelly, low-lying pool of green gunk.
Dana’s sharp eyes caught a flicker of blue and red in the distance and answered his question. “I’d say over by that parked police car.”
She grabbed her bag off the seat behind her and threw the strap over her shoulder as Mulder pulled to a stop. They disembarked, ID’s in hand.
“This is Special Agent Dana Scully,” Mulder dipped his head in her direction, “and I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder. To coin a phrase, what’s all this then, officers?”
The larger of the two Jersey state cops, a big man with sandy, gray-flecked hair and a sprinkle of summer freckles across his sun-burnt nose, shook Mulder’s free hand and nodded politely at Scully.
“Sir... ma’am? Good to meet you. I’m Captain Tommy Meller, this is Deputy Grimaldi.” He indicated the policeman, who grinned a greeting. “I didn't think it would be so easy to get a couple of agents up here from Washington... good to see some one’s taking us seriously.”
“Yeah, the hard part’s getting someone to take us seriously,” said Mulder, straight-faced. “Captain Meller, is it? What brought you down from headquarters on this one instead of just assigning a field officer?”
“Personal involvement, actually.” The police captain shyly ducked his head and avoided their eyes. “You ain’t gonna believe this, but I’ve seen the strangest things this past week.”
“You would be surprised, sir,” was Scully’s deadpan reply.
* * * * *
Just outside Secaucus, New Jersey
Much to Ray’s annoyance, Charles ‘call-me-Chuck’ Benson, the 9 News reporter, seemed to fancy himself a director, because he’d been ordering them all around since Ecto 1 had pulled over by the camera truck parked on the side of the road. ‘Chuck’ was currently putting Egon through his paces. Ray thought it was lucky for the dweeb that Egon was such a polite guy, because a genius of Egon’s caliber could have easily verbally filleted good, old Chuckers. In a battle of wits, the reporter was woefully un-armed.
“Okay, Dr. Spengler! You’re gonna hold out your EKG gizmo, wave it at the swamp and then look all sciency-concerned at it!” ordered ‘Chuck’.
“Actually, it’s a PKE meter,” corrected Egon, swatting ineffectually at a small cloud of gnats. “That stands for Psycho Kinetic Ener–”
“Yeah, whattever,” ‘Chuck’ interrupted, drawing a sharp look of disapproval from Egon, which he ignored. “Let’s do a run-through on videotape, fellas; we might get something good.” Their cameraman hefted his video-cam to his shoulder and gave a thumbs up.
“Let’s all be loose and enjoy this! Let’s see some sparkle, Egon,” called Peter to his unamused colleague. “The camera is your friend! Remember that! Sing out, Louise!”
“Good-bye, dignity! Check it out, he’s getting Peter horsing-around on tape!” muttered Winston to Ray.
Ray shrugged. “Hey, no matter what we do, we’re gonna wind up on the blooper reel at the channel 9 Christmas party.” Ray sighed, martyred; then both Ghostbusters turned to watch the fun.
“This is ‘Chuck’ Benson for WOR 9 News, reporting from the swamplands of Secaucus. Just across the Hudson River, the skyscrapers of New York City glint in the late-afternoon sunlight; yet here, it is as if time has stopped. This almost primordial land, a mere a fifteen-minute drive from the height of civilization, has been the site of some mighty odd phenomenon recently. Lights, wails, and sonic booms have become daily occurrences according to the local inhabitants. But help is on the way! The Ghostbusters have been summoned!”
At this, the cameraman swung the camera over to where Egon stood, PKE meter in hand. On cue, the dour scientist switched on the device and swung it in a short arc. But ‘Chuck’ Benson, investigative reporter, never got to finish his report, because the meter emitted a piercing, metallic squeal, causing everyone to clap their hands over their ears, except the cameraman, who ripped off his headset, then clapped his hands over his ears.
Egon looked astonished for a moment, then quickly threw the device as far from himself and the group as possible. It exploded spectacularly before it even hit the ground.
“Holy Hanna!” Ray’s eyes danced with joy; apparently there was some ‘busting to be done after all. “Egon, didja catch the reading before she blew?”
Egon looked impressed at the smoking crater that had been a half-dead shrub moments ago. “The needle was pinned, Ray. It was off-the-scale.” His eyes roved the seemingly innocent woods around him with concern. “Ray, we are in big trouble.”
‘Chuck’ Benson sputtered, finding his voice at last. “Y-y-you mean, this is a n-n-news story after all?! A real news story?”
“Yep,” Peter leaned over and threw a friendly arm about the pasty-faced reporter’s shoulders, “with danger and jeopardy and hazards and everything. Maybe Gozer’s comin’ back! What a scoop for you; eh, Chuckers?”
The glassy-eyed reporter shuddered under the weight of Peter’s arm, “I’d be an anchor by now if I’d stayed in Springfield, safe behind a desk; but, no, I had to move to the coast, to try for the big time.”
“That was your first mistake,” Peter nodded. “Your second is not getting into your car and getting the hell out of here right now.”
Sometimes Peter can be an idiot, thought Ray. But the great thing about Peter was that he always went and did something awesome to redeem himself.
* * * * *
Just outside Secaucus, New Jersey
“Did you hear that?” Scully said, tensed to listen. Two FBI agents and two policemen scanned the area, straining their ears and eyes to the limit.
Mulder pointed, “That way, c’mon!” and all four highly-trained officers of the law went loping off in the direction he’d indicated, guns drawn.
One minute, they’d been standing by the cars, quietly swatting at gnats; the next, there’d been a hellacious explosion in a not-too-distant copse of woods. Pranksters with cherry-bombs? Would the case be that easy to crack?
They burst through a stand of trees and found themselves by a road, in an open, marshy area, then pulled up short.
“Freeze!” yelled Deputy Grimaldi at the top of his lungs, gun out and pointed in the direction of a group of surprised-looking people, four of them in coverall-style uniforms. They stared at him as if he was The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
One of the men, a guy in an expensive safari jacket with heavily lacquered hair, snapped, “Keep that tape rolling,” to another man carrying a video camera. The flashy guy was carrying a microphone and stuck it in Grimaldi’s face, ignoring the gun. “And what, may I ask, is the reason for this use of unreasonable force, officer?”
The police captain was already holstering his pistol. “It’s all right, Deputy; I know this guy from TV... uh, Chuck Benson; he’s on the local news.” The news hound beamed, clearly delighted at being recognized.
“Hey! Cool! It’s the Ghostbusters!” Officer Grimaldi didn’t seem to recognize the reporter, but he seemed to know who the uniformed men were.
“The who?” Scully didn’t catch the reference, but her partner did. Mulder summed up the group’s activities for her in short order: “A New York City-based group of itinerant demonologists and occultists who capture and dispose of ectoplasmic and demonological entities for a fee.” He smiled at her, obviously pleased with himself.
Scully shot him a look of disbelief—did Mulder have the goods on every fringe group on the planet? She had to admit, though, she did vaguely remember some excitement about the Ghostbusters in the tabloids some years ago. The Wall Street Journal had really gone down in quality since Rupert Murdoch had purchased it.
“And a hefty fee it usually is, my friend,” one of the uniformed men smiled at Mulder’s assessment. “I,” he continued with a flourish and a smile, “am Dr. Peter Venkman. These are Drs. Egon Spengler and Ray Stanz, and this is the estimable Mr. Winston Zeddemore. We are the Ghostbusters.”
Captain Meller seemed unimpressed. “Yeah? I am Captain Thomas Meller of the New Jersey State Police. You fellows got a permit to set off fireworks?”
Venkman’s face fell.
“There were no fireworks involved, sir,” Dr. Spengler hastened to explain. “We were called in to investigate some strange local phenomena and were attempting to do so, when the PKE meter registered a power overload and blew. Most distressing. The last time that happened, the situation we faced was quite dire; almost The End Of The World.” They could tell that he had capitalized (and possibly bolded) the last five words.
“For cripe’s sake, Cap! It’s the Ghostbusters! We shoulda called them right off! Tell them what you and the kid saw!”
“Don’t mind us,” said Scully frostily. She put her gun back in her bag and stood, hands on hips.
“Yeah, what are we, chopped liver?” her partner sided with her, though in amused tones.
“Who are you two?” Mr. Zeddemore asked curiously, looking them over. His eyes narrowed. “I’m guessing you guys are Feds; am I right?”
“How could you tell?” Scully was honestly impressed at the identification.
Mr. Zeddemore shrugged. “Nobody else would wear a white dress shirt and tie in a swamp on a day like today,” he said, jerking a thumb at her partner. Mulder, who wore a sharp suit that now bore traces of swamp ooze on the pants cuffs, nodded ruefully in agreement. “Also, that’s a very Fed pant suit,” he continued, indicating her outfit. She looked down and saw the same muck encrusting her own sensible shoes and pant legs.
“This is all very interesting,” Dr. Spengler interrupted, “but I really am afraid that Something Very Bad Is Happening. Right Now.”
Dr. Spengler’s companions were beginning to look nervous. They all peered suspiciously at the underbrush, as if they thought a boogieman lurked there.
“Egon, would you stop capitalizing and bolding your words and tell us what’s going on?” Venkman said.
Scully gritted her teeth. She’d been getting a lot of practice in talking to border-line maniacs lately. “We are FBI Special Agents Scully and Mulder. We were called in by Captain Meller, here, with regard to some lights and noises originating in this general vicinity. Captain, I suggest you tell us your story from start to finish, perhaps we can finally get somewhere.”
“Uh, no thank you, ma’am,” the police captain’s reply surprised her. He glanced nervously at the WOR 9 News camera and shook his head. The lens was aimed practically up his nose. “I don’t think I have the departmental authority to go on camera.”
Dr. Spengler stepped forward, “Sir. I put it to you that if the world ends sometime in the next few hours, there will be no reason for your concerns about being quoted on television.”
A silence fell over the group as they digested what the grim-looking nuclear physicist had said.
For the first time, Scully realized that there was no sound at all—no crickets, no birds chirping, no distant animal calls-in the surrounding woods. Even the gnats had disappeared since the explosion. That, plus something in Dr. Spengler’s demeanor, obviously impressed the police captain, because he began his story despite the presence of the reporter and the cameraman.
“My son, Tommy Jr. and I like to camp out in these woods. Not too far into the swampland, mind you, but deep enough in so we don’t have to listen to the cars on the highway. We were camping out last Saturday night and, at about ten o’clock or so, Tommy had to take a le—s’cuse me, ma’am—Tommy had to find a bush to do his business in, if you catch my drift. A few minutes later, he comes back and grabs a bag of Reese’s Pieces from all the junk food we packed, and he says, ‘C’mon, daddy, I found E.T.!’
“I decided to humor him, but I made sure I had my piece on me, loaded, just in case ‘E.T.’ turns out to be something unhealthy.”
“E.T.?” Scully’s heart sank when she saw the way the story was going. She realized she’d been harboring a tiny flicker of hope in her heart that it was just a gang of blessedly normal, vicious drug dealers or nuclear-waste dumpers.
“Yeah, E.T. We have the DVD. Tommy is about the same age as the kid in it and he loves that movie.
“So, out we go, into the woods. It was quiet, like now. I’d have given anything to hear a car go by at that point, the hair on the back of my neck was standing up something fierce! But Tommy’s leading me along, and we come up to a clearing. There’s green light in the clearing, and I pull the kid back. I go and look around a bush, and there, there they are....”
“Who?!” gasped Dr. Stanz, leaning forward like a kid listening to a camp-fire story.
The hope in Scully’s heart that this wasn’t going to be an ‘X-file’ crashed and burned.
“It was little greeny-gray people. I swear to you, I haven’t had a drink since a glass of wine in a restaurant for my anniversary two months ago. I wouldn’t drink, not near my kid, not when I’m wearing my piece. I never even smoked pot in my life—you don’t know me, but I am the straightest arrow who ever lived—ask Grimaldi here! But I seen ‘em. Six little people, and they look just like that guy in E.T.! Or like those guys in Close Encounters of the Third Kind!”
“This is great stuff,” breathed ‘Chuck’, round-eyed.
The police captain did not look happy on hearing this from the news reporter. “Listen, mister, don’t be so cheerful! I could lose my job for seeing hallucinations, if somebody in the department really wanted to make trouble for me. But I saw them, I tell you. And they saw me!
“They came at me, peeping at me, their skinny little arms reaching for me, trying to touch me! I grabbed Tommy and ran to the car! How I found it, I don’t know, but I tossed my kid into the car, jumped into the driver’s seat and peeled out! I left all that stuff behind at the campsite; I didn’t even think about it. This is the first time since then I’ve been back.
“Next day, I started collecting up all the stories of other people who saw something, just like I did. I have a file this thick,” he held his thumb and forefinger a full two inches apart, “Reports filed by people who saw lights, heard noises, all in the last couple of weeks. A few even admitted to me that they saw little people, but no one would sign a report to that effect.”
“Right.” Scully traded a look with Mulder, squared her shoulders and faced the group. “Captain Meller, you and your deputy will escort us to the location of your sighting. I am afraid that I am going to have to ask the civilians to stay behind—no arguments, please!”
“I approve—unless, of course, you are including us in that classification,” Dr. Spengler said.
“Yes,” responded Scully in unison with her partner’s, “No!” and she traded another look with him. “Can I assume you mean, ‘no, you can’t come along’?” she asked.
Mulder took a deep breath as if preparing for a fight, which, she supposed, he was. “No, I mean, ‘no, you aren’t civilians, you can come along’; do you honestly have a problem with that, Scully?”
“Do I have a problem? Mulder—these people make you look normal!”
While she and Mulder quarreled, the Ghostbusters went to their vehicle, a large, converted hearse; and removed some heavy gear from the back. Scully’s angry voice trailed off when she caught sight of the strange equipment. Mulder raised his eyebrows at her in mutual surprise, then quirked his head in the direction of the busy group of scientists, and the agents sauntered over, intrigued.
“And what are those?” asked Scully, eyes narrowed suspiciously at the odd contraptions strapped to the Ghostbusters’ backs.
“They’re proton packs,” said Dr. Stanz cheerfully. “Don’t worry, Agent Scully, the E.P.A. knows all about them.” It occurred to her that he hadn’t said whether the E.P.A. approved of them or not.
Mulder reached over and pulled on her sleeve gently to get her attention. “Scully, these guys are loaded for bear. We may need them. They’ve been operating in the tri-state area for some years now, doing some pretty funky-yet-impressive stuff and, frankly, I’ve always meant to look them up. And there’s this whole ‘End Of The World’ thing to consider.”
Scully realized, grudgingly, that he was right, but she wasn’t about to give in gracefully. “You realize, of course, that if one of them gets hurt, Uncle Sam will probably be sued big time. Conversely, they might accidentally shoot us with one of those things.”
“Pretty lady, fear not.” Dr. Venkman had obviously been eavesdropping. “We haven’t accidentally shot any one in, oh, three, maybe four weeks. We are professionals of the highest caliber. Besides, we have very comprehensive health benefits and insurance.”
She smiled back at him, somewhat insincerely. “Dr. Venkman, I had no idea you could get insurance for The End Of The World.”
* * * * *
As it turned out, Deputy Grimaldi was unable to accompany them to the site Captain Meller had described. The only way to be sure ‘Chuck’ Benson and his cameraman left the scene was to escort them back to the highway, so the deputy was assigned to escort duty. Chuckers protested fiercely, but Mulder somehow got the idea that he was relieved to be denied a chance to accompany them.
After a moment of thought, Mulder confiscated the camera and tape, much to Captain Meller’s evident relief. Mulder simply didn’t want to encourage gangs of reporters cluttering up the area, and knew the wild tale the captain had told would act on them like honey on flies. The two civilians were stuffed into their WOR 9 News van and sent on their way, Grimaldi accompanying.
“Just one moment,” said Dr. Spengler, rifling through a metal box in the back of the Ghostbusters’ hearse, “...this will undoubtedly prove useful.” He held out a duplicate of the PKE meter that had blown up earlier. “I’ve adjusted the take-up to prevent overload, this meter is far less sensitive than other,” he explained to Mulder. Holding the device away from the group, he switched it on, and it began to emit a steady beep. He swung the meter in an arc, and the beep picked up noticeably.
“Yep, that’s the direction,” Captain Meller nodded at the bearing the device showed.
Two FBI agents, four Ghostbusters and one New Jersey State policeman started out through the swamp, heading for the thickest of it.
Captain Meller, who knew the region, led the way; Dr. Spengler kept pace a step or two behind him, confirming the direction with his modified PKE meter. Mulder and the rest fanned out behind them, making their way through the brush as best they could.
Hiking through a swamp is not easy, even for a physically-fit Special Agent of the F.B.I., Mulder thought. Patches of squelchy soil, rocky stretches, and scrubby underbrush clutched at his feet, and he was finding it difficult to negotiate the terrain. He’d already written off his shoes.
He sneaked a look at the four oddballs who made up ‘The Ghostbusters’, and realized that his situation could be much worse—if he were to strap what he knew was an illegal nuclear particle accelerator to his back and some ghost-trapping contraptions on his belt, he doubted he’d do as well as they were managing. The team seemed used to the added weight and kept up with the less heavily burdened agents of the law.
“Here it is!” Captain Meller exclaimed, but it wasn’t the infamous clearing of little spacemen, it was the campsite he and his son had hastily abandoned some three days earlier. The site looked untouched. Meller knelt down and reached through the tent flap, pulling out a worn stuffed toy. “Tommy’s been missing his Buddy-Bear something fierce,” he shrugged, and stuck the bear in his inside jacket pocket.
“Sir, a bit more alacrity if you please,” urged Dr. Spengler. He held out the PKE meter for Dr. Stanz to see, and Dr. Stanz whistled, impressed. “Egon, the needle’s moving perceptibly higher!”
“It’s been set to show exponential growth,” confirmed Dr. Spengler.
Scully looked liked the question she was about to ask had caused a bad taste in her mouth. “Exponential growth of what?”
“Power. A massive power build-up of a sort I can’t begin to describe. I’m not even sure it’s entirely supernatural, there are strange overtones...,” Dr. Spengler trailed off, engrossed in the readings. “This way, it’s not far.” Spengler took the lead, the others doing their best to keep up with his long stride. The PKE meter in his hand began to beep in a steady tone as they broke into Captain Meller’s clearing.
Mulder glanced professionally around the clearing, searching for... he didn’t know what. It looked pretty in the light of the waning mid-summer sun; the gnarled trees half in shadow and the green, glossy foliage motionless in the unnatural calm. Dr. Spengler did not stop to enjoy the view, but pushed his way through a bush, unmindful of the thorns catching at his coveralls, and continued in a straight line across the clearing, disappearing into the gloom on the other side.
Mulder traded a puzzled look with Scully and scrambled to keep up, followed by the rest of the group of investigators.
“Where’d he go?”
“Doctor Spengler? Sir?”
“Egon! Where the hell are you?”
Dr. Spengler’s deep voice responded to their concerned calls. He said:
“I’m here. Just next to the spaceship.”
Following Spengler’s voice, Mulder ducked under a fir tree, pushed through, and straightened... and found himself nose-to-wall with a large, silvery obstacle that gently curved up and away from him on either side. Bizarrely, he could not see any reflections in the otherwise mirror-like wall, lit with an inner glow. Swallowing hard, he ran a hand over the surface, and it slid off as if he’d run his fingers over a vat of quick-silver ball-bearings. “Totally frictionless exterior,” he breathed.
Mulder inched along the wall until he came to the rest of the search party, who stood gob-smacked, staring, crowded near to one another—human beings taking solace in the companionship of their own kind in the face of the unimaginable.
Spengler had turned off the PKE meter and the group stared silently at a huge gash in the side of the enormous shiny-silver teardrop-shaped ship. The ugly fracture was singed and melted, and darkness lay within. Mulder moved carefully over the bumpy terrain to stand next to his partner.
“I don’t suppose this could be an abandoned set from a science-fiction movie?” whispered Scully.
Never taking his eyes from the ship, Mulder reached out and took her hand, giving it a brief squeeze for luck.
“Well, boys ‘n’ girls, fellas and gals; this here’s why we get the big money,” Venkman’s voice broke the spell. He flicked a switch on his proton pack and its whine filled the clearing. The other three Ghostbusters followed suit.
“Somebody has to stay outside,” Mulder turned to the white-faced police captain, “you know, just in case.” He did not have to finish that sentence.
Captain Meller tore his eyes from the very special special-effect, to meet his. “I have no problem with that, sir. I ain’t a coward. I’ve arrested members of chain-wielding biker gangs, and I once tackled a son-of-a-bitch with an A-K 47 in his hands; but let me tell you, if God and His heavenly choir of angels flew down from on high at this very moment and to me to go in there, I’m not sure I would do it.” The big man’s voice actually shook.
“You’re a sensible man, Captain,” Scully pulled her gun and nodded to Mulder, signaling her readiness. He pulled his gun as well and gestured for the Ghostbusters to fall back.
“We go first. Rank has its privileges, gentlemen. Wait for us to give the all clear; you may enter after us.” Mulder stepped up to the opening in the side of the ship, Scully half a step behind. The eyes of the quartet of disappointed Ghostbusters and a deeply shaken police officer followed them until they slipped through the crack.
* * * * *
Mulder left the warm pool of light thrown by the summer sun behind him, stepping into the darkness carefully as the floor, though solid, canted slightly down. He sensed his partner behind him and to his left. He was as good as blind for a moment, but his eyes adjusted and he realized the room was, in fact, illuminated by a soft phosphorescent glow. He stood, silent and tense for a moment, just listening.
Mulder jumped when he felt, almost rather than heard, that odd, subsonic sound. It came up through the deck, up through the soles of his feet. Deep, weighty, difficult to define—there were no follow-up sounds, making it impossible to pin-point the direction it had come from.
Hyper-alert, gun still drawn, he moved away from Scully and paced the room, trusting her to guard his back. After a few moments, when nothing else happened, he relaxed marginally, and turned to her, one eyebrow raised. She merely gave him a quizzical look. He shrugged, and looked around the room again.
He blinked with surprise when he realized just what it was the room reminded him of.
“Scully? Did you ever see the movie Alien?”
She wasn’t given the chance to answer the question, as the lights snapped on abruptly and the room suddenly came to life with a growing hum of power.
“Your voice, Mulder... you spoke, and it all started up,” she said in a level tone that he knew disguised her alarm.
Without thinking, he spun about, gun at the ready, and she took the same protective stance, back to back.
His suggestion that the room was reminiscent of the movie Alien was a good one. The artist and set designer, Giger, had wanted to suggest a technology of bio-based mechanics in that movie and this room looked as if it had been grown, not built. Vari-colored stations sprouted at intervals from the floor more like elaborate floral structures than computer banks, yet for all that, the room was still discernible as a bridge. A large seat bloomed in the middle of it all, as recognizable as Captain Kirk’s own bridge chair. It was obviously the nerve center of the room, as stem-like structures visible under the crystalline floor fed from each station to it. A naturalistic, domed ceiling arched high overhead; it was like being inside a huge cream-colored pea pod.
It was possibly the most beautiful thing Mulder had ever seen.
“Well?” Scully said.
“Well, what?” The power surge had leveled off and the room thrummed softly around them. It didn’t look like anything else was going to happen, so he put his gun back in its holster.
“Well, Mulder; this is your thing. I’ve been trained to deal with serial killers, drug addicts, kidnappers... but this? What do we do, after you’ve said, ‘I told you so’?”
Before Mulder could answer, a cheery voice from behind him interrupted.
“Hey, y’all. How’re things goin’ in here; Stretch, missy-ma’am?” Venkman said in a bad Texas accent, poking his head in through the tear in the side of the ship, neutron-thrower humming at the ready in his hand. “We thought you’d need a hand, so we’re coming in, uninvited.” He was closely followed by his fellow Ghostbusters.
They entered the bridge area, eyes wide with admiration. Zeddemore whistled appreciatively as Stanz and Venkman gravitated over to one of the stations. Even Dr. Spengler goggled like a kid in a toy store.
“Hey, guys; do me a solid and don’t touch anything,” was barely out of Mulder’s mouth when he noticed a weird gaseous effect beginning to fill the center of the room. “Now what? Everybody, get back!”
They all jumped out of the way.
The drifting gases abruptly coalesced into six little beings with long, spindly arms; large heads; and enormous, black eyes. They floated eerily around the humans standing on their bridge.
Captain Meller had neglected to mention that his little, greeny-gray people were translucent.
* * * * *
The modified PKE meter in Egon’s hand fell to silence, then began to give off a series of piercing shrieks. “Tobin’s Spirit Guide is going to be useless in this situation,” Egon said.
“...and so’s that meter. Turn it off, Egon, before she blows, too,” Winston said. Egon turned off the meter and hooked it to his belt.
“We don’t need the Guide!” Ray said, almost bouncing with excitement. “They flew in, they crashed, they died... it was all so abrupt, obviously they felt they left something undone, so they all became ghosts!”
“That’s a big leap of faith, Ray. You can’t ascribe human-ghost motivations to these little guys,” Peter shook his head, then leaned back as one of the creatures flew past his head a mite too close for comfort.
“Are you trying to tell us that this isn’t about aliens... and it isn’t about ghosts. It’s about alien ghosts?” Scully’s eyebrows climbed toward her hairline as her eyes widened in disbelief. “That’s insane.”
“No, it isn’t! Why shouldn’t aliens become ghosts when they die?” Ray said indignantly. “They’re people, too.”
“Ghosts?” Mulder’s eyes glowed with the revelation. “They’re ghosts? So, all of this... this ship belongs to us?”
His partner stared at him meanly for a moment like she wanted to slap him, to bring him to his senses (or possibly just for the fun of it) but instead jumped back as a pair of alien wraiths almost blind-sided her. She edged towards the tear in the side of the ship.
“I don’t care if they’re goopers from the planet Yertle the Turtle—they’re ghosts, we bust ghosts; I say we bust ‘em.” Peter adopted the wide-legged ghost-busting stance one took to keep oneself from being blown backwards by one’s own particle stream and hefted his ion thrower cheerfully.
“Unlikely, Peter,” Egon said, unclipping the PKE meter from his belt to fiddle with it some more. “They’re not like terrestrial ghosts. I’m afraid the harmonic oscillation they exist on is at a vastly higher frequency than what can be affected by our weaponry... or our traps.”
Peter looked at him with a crestfallen expression and powered down his neutron accelerator sadly. “No blasting today? Okay, so what do we do, big guy?”
The aliens answered that question. They had been drifting delicately about the room, but began to move more quickly, until they surged and swirled around and around like leaves in a hurricane. The humans took refuge where they could, behind the panels growing out of the floor. Suddenly, all six aliens seemed to flow together, coalescing into a concentrated ball-lightening form, then shot straight at Ray, who was peeking out from behind a chair. The energy force struck him on the chest with such power that he was thrown bodily against a wall, hitting it flat out. He slid down the bulkhead, unconscious. There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by the others’ horrified cries.
“Ray!” Egon yelled in unison with Peter. They jumped from the stations they hid behind and nearly colliding in their haste.
Winston leapt to their side, “Ray, m’man, speak to me!”
“Omigod; Mulder, I warned you—let me through, I’m a doctor!” Scully pushed past the three Ghostbusters and knelt down beside Ray where he sagged against the curved wall as if all of his bones had turned to rubber. She felt for the carotid artery in his neck, and snapped, “His pulse is thready!” The fact that his best friend had a pulse at all was enough to start Egon breathing again. He hadn’t even realized he’d been holding his breath. Gently pulling up one of her patient’s eyelids, Scully seemed marginally pleased to see the pupil contract in the light, giving Egon further hope.
Then an odd thing happened. Ray seemed to pull himself together like a marionette on a string. His head lolled; his eyelids lifted of their own accord to reveal a steady, personality-less stare; and his mouth fell open upon his chest. A thin voice, entirely unlike his own, came out. “Ugly bags of mostly water!” shrilled the voice. Scully blinked and jumped back, colliding with Mulder, who grabbed her to keep her from falling. “I’m sorry, what did you say, Dr. Stanz?” she asked.
It seemed to Egon that he’d heard that odd expression before. The phrase was tantalizingly familiar. “Ugly what?” he said.
“It is in this one’s mind that we should call you that. We do not know what this wordage means.”
Winston cleared up the mystery. “Star Trek! Hey, Egon, they can read Ray’s mind! That’s a line from a first season Next Generation episode. I hated that episode.”
“You hated first season,” Peter shot back, “So, Ray’s possessed. The ghosts are speaking to us through him. This is, like, the fifth or sixth time this has happened?”
Egon aimed his PKE meter to the occultist’s limp form, irritation crossing his dour features as the meter continued to give him wildly contradictory information, changing every few seconds. “I don’t care what the PKE meter does or doesn’t say; I’m more convinced than ever that these alien ghosts simply have a different energy signature than terrestrial ghosts.”
Ruthlessly pushing aside his fear for his friend, Egon concentrated on the fascinating puzzle that presented itself for solving. He flipped over the meter and opened the back, changing its parameters to match Ray’s biorhythms. “I agree with your prognosis, Peter. I believe Ray is channeling one or more of these beings—perhaps all of them.”
“You mean like that old Trek episode, The Lights of Zetar?” Mulder waved a hand in front of Ray’s eyes, without evoking a response. “I’m impressed.”
“Not you, too, Mulder! Why am I not surprised you gentlemen are all Trekkies?” Scully pushed Mulder out of the way to check her patient’s pulse again, glancing at her watch and counting the beats. She put a hand to his forehead, plainly trying to estimate his temperature. “Interesting. His heart is beating very, very slowly, and I’d say he’s running a fever. It’s as if the creatures inhabiting his body are interfering with his bodily functions. You have no idea how much I hate saying this, but... it’s like that old Star Trek episode, the one with, uh, ‘Sargon’ in it?”
Mulder grinned at her, as if he were suddenly terribly proud of her. “Excellent analogy, Doctor. I remember the episode.” Scully looked embarrassed and turned back to tend to Ray.
“I often think we could make more money simply renting Ray out as a medium,” remarked Peter to Mulder, “but he won’t let me.” He jerked a thumb at Egon.
“Talk talk talk! You talk too much to one another! What are us am, chopped liver? Shuttup, it will tell you something important.”
A look of irritation passed over Peter’s face at the harsh quality of his friend’s voice. “The aliens are kvetching at us, they’re just a bunch of alien nags. Tell us, O aliens, what you will! Then get the hell outa my buddy before you trash his bod, such as it is!”
Egon knew it was typical of Peter to be flippant in the face of the unknown, but the FBI agents stared at him in horror. Fortunately, the aliens did not seem to take offense.
“Send the Spengler to energy emissions device for measuringmentation. On quarter deck. Blue terminal, your water eyes see blue at station. Energy up soft blue down cold blue. Go now, the Spengler.”
Egon leapt to his feet and scanned the stations that grew from the deck near him. Only one glowed with a blue light. “I believe this is the one to which it-or-they refer,” he said, the glow reflecting oddly off his face and eyeglasses, “I can’t make head nor tails of this with a mere cursory examination, it’s simply too alien! Peter, ask them what I do next.”
“The man sez, ‘What next?’” Peter relayed the question.
“Soft blue beep-beep-beep energy up, hard blue steady energy down. Tell us with your eyes, is hard and cold steady?”
“Ya got that, Egon? What the hell is a ‘hard blue’, let alone a ‘beep-beep-beep’?”
Egon’s mind raced and a picture began to form—it was beginning to make sense. If only he had more time! “I think I understand, Peter. These beings use hues and shades of color to measure quantity and quality. In this case, if the panel were a cold blue, the energy quotient would be low, on the assumption that our eyes perceive color the same way the aliens’ eyes do.”
“Is cold, yesss? Please, is cold by your eyes, say yesss?” The aliens’ hope was obvious even through the harshness of Ray’s voice.
Peter came across the bridge to look at the panel over Egon’s shoulder. “I’m no artist, but I’d say this is a nice, warm, soft blue—oddly enough, it’s exactly the same color as your eyes, Ms.-Agent-Scully.”
“I would concur—that the color is a warm blue, not about your eyes, ma’am—which I assume means the energy, whatever kind of energy it is, is ‘up’. And by ‘beep-beep-beep’, do you mean an intermittent pulse, because it’s definitely pulsing intermittently.”
“Ooooooh. Is not good. Poor hue-maaans. Poooor little hue-mans.” Ray’s harsh voice softened to a nattering sing-song. Scully looked appalled at the whispery pitch Ray’s diction had taken, checked his temperature again. She didn’t look happy with her findings. “This man is burning up. I suggest we bring this conversation to a conclusion, gentlemen!”
“Okay, sympathy from an alien, not inspiring confidence,” gulped Winston. “Let us in on it, will you, little guys?—but hurry!” he addressed Ray as if he were a telecommunication device.
“Beep-beep-beep is engine-core breach. Matter-antimatter to blow-beep-small span of time-beep-poor little hue-mans-beep-melt. Stand just here, the Spengler. Now!”
Egon leapt from the station to crouch beside his fallen friend. Still moving as a marionette moves, Ray’s arm lifted slowly from his side until his hand barely touched Egon’s forehead.
There was a bright, white light in Egon’s head, and suddenly he stopped thinking for a while.
* * * * *
There was no spark or discharge, but to Mulder’s surprise, Dr. Spengler suddenly shouted incoherently and was thrown to the side as if some sort of explosion had occurred. He sat where he fell, shaking his head like a man who’d just had a cannon shot off near his ear. When he struggled to regain his footing, Mulder and Venkman reached down to haul him to his feet.
“‘Humans-beep-melt’? Ick,” Venkman said.
“Sounds messy,” agreed Mulder, not nearly as flippantly. “Are you all right, Dr. Spengler? Can you stand on your own? What just happened?”
“Wow!” it was the loudest Mulder had yet heard the phlegmatic nuclear physicist speak, he was practically shouting. “Did you hear that? My ears are still ringing. What a rush!” Spengler held his shaking hands in front of him and stared at them.
“We didn’t hear anything, but they can hear you in mid-town Manhattan now, big guy.” Venkman rolled his eyes in amusement.
Bringing his voice down by sheer force of will and quivering with suppressed energy, Dr. Spengler said, “When Ray touched my forehead, it was as if a thousand people were screaming at me. Or, better analogy, as if a thousand bits of paper, each with a sentence of information, were suddenly dumped on my head, but I could read them all, all at once! Suddenly, I knew exactly what’s been going on around here for the past few weeks. Are you telling me you didn’t hear anything?”
“Vulcan Mind Meld” everyone said in unison, even Scully.
“T-tell them, Egon,” a faltering voice spoke from the floor. Mulder whirled and saw Stanz, damp with sweat and weak as a kitten, but apparently otherwise all right, holding out a hand to his colleague.
“Ray! You’re you!” Zeddemore said. His relief seemed to reflect that of his partners, and certainly that of Scully, who immediately took the occultist’s pulse again.
“How do you feel, Dr. Stanz?” asked Mulder.
Stanz swallowed hard. “Forget about me... tell them, Egon, before it’s too late! Tell ‘em about ‘humans-beep-melt’!”
The artificially-charged up scientist seemed to visibly deflate until he was again almost the dour Egon Spengler that Mulder had become used to. “The good news first... my prognostication that we face The End Of The World was, I believe, somewhat overstated.”
Everyone relaxed with relief, smiles all around.
“The bad news is that some time in the next few hours, we face a detonation that will take out a good-sized section of the Northern New Jersey swamplands.”
“A detonation? My ship, I mean, this ship’s going to explode?!” Mulder gasped, looking stricken.
“So Lloyd Lindsay Young has a hell of a weather-forecast tonight. ‘Hell-oooooo, Seeeeeecaucus! Good-byeeeeee, swampland!’” Venkman mimicked the infamous Channel 9 weatherman, “Big, fat, hairy deal. You guys grab Ray and let’s get outa here, stat.” He hefted the nozzle of his particle-thrower in a brief salute and made to go.
“...and most of the West Side,” Spengler finished his sentence.
“The West Side? Are we talking about Manhattan’s West Side?” gulped Scully. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation! Are you serious?”
“Yes, I am serious, Agent Scully—deadly serious. Sixth Avenue is going to be beach-front property unless we do something very quickly to prevent it.”
Venkman stopped short, shoulders up around his ears. He spun around to face the group, “West Side go ‘boom’? My favorite Italian restaurant is on the West Side—we gotta do something!”
“Help me up,” Stanz implored Zeddemore, who pulled him to his feet, supporting him when he almost fell to the floor again. He took a few steps, then fell heavily into the command chair. “Egon, didja get the part about how to start up the self-destruct sequence? I... I couldn’t get m-m-my mind around it, it was just too weird.”
“Uh, oh... too weird for Ray? That’s gonna be trouble,” commented Venkman to Scully, who did not seem to find him at all amusing. Venkman fished around in his pocket and pulled out a Snickers bar, handing it to Stanz, who quickly unwrapped it with shaking hands and took a bite.
“Wait, wait, wait; self-destruct sequence?” Things were moving too damned fast, Mulder felt as if he were running last in a race and he had no hope of ever catching up. “Wait a minute! Stop! Just stop! You are not self-destructing this ship. Can you imagine what we can learn from this great opportunity we’ve been presented with?” He made his stand from the center of the bridge, unconsciously mimicking Captain Kirk. “How can we lose her when we just found her? I have only your word that there’s anything wrong with her! I have to put the brakes on this operation now!”
Scully, who seemed shaken by his outburst, put a hand to his arm as if to calm him, but he walked away from her, eyeing the Ghostbusters defiantly.
Stanz slumped in his chair, but Zeddemore and Venkman looked affronted and stepped up to argue with Mulder. Spengler held up a hand, and the two fell silent. “Agent Mulder. I fully understand your position. But use your own powers of cognition, and you’ll confirm for yourself that we are in a dire dilemma. Here are the facts. This ship crashed two weeks ago—you can see the damage. I have a vague notion that they were investigating the effects of the Pleiades meteor showers on our planet’s atmosphere, and something happened—something unexpected, something terrible....”
Stanz raised his weary head to join in, “Horrible! It was horrible. They tried to self-destruct, really they did, Agent Mulder! They have a promise, an oath, built into their very DNA to destroy themselves rather than allow their technology to fall into the hands of the primitives—that’s us. I could still taste the desperation in that memory—alien desperation! I’m not surprised they couldn’t rest in peace, poor little guys.” His head fell back again, exhausted.
Dr. Spengler picked up their tale. “The crash weakened the supports to their version of an engine room—frankly, I find it very odd that they think of this ship as a living being, the actual translation was the ‘abdomen’, if I got that right.” Stanz nodded, but didn’t speak, so Spengler continued. “If the energy that fuels this ship exerts enough internal pressure to crack its ‘stomach’ open, there will be an explosion on a sub-atomic level. I’m not even sure what kind of energy it is, but its power is immense.”
“We have to kill this ship. It’s in terrible pain! We have to, to euthanize it,” Stanz almost wept in sympathy. Spengler nodded in agreement.
“So, who we gonna call?” Mulder snapped at them sarcastically, “Dr. Kevorkian?”
“We haven’t time,” answered Spengler, apparently taking the question at face value. “The aliens were actually wondering why the ship hadn’t detonated before now. And when it goes, best-case scenario, I’d say a simple mass conversion of all matter in a ten-to-twenty mile diameter into energy, presenting as a spherical scorch pattern. And when I say ‘spherical scorch pattern’, I mean that precisely—the crater will be a hemisphere, five-to-ten miles deep, the walls of which will be fused-glass, similar to volcanic glass. Hence, ‘humans-beep-melt’. Worst-case scenario, as I’ve delineated plus a nuclear winter for, approximately, a decade.”
“I’m sorry, could we go over the part where the world isn’t destroyed again, Egon?” asked Venkman, but they all ignored him and stared at Mulder, clearly waiting for his reaction.
Mulder looked at the floor, unable to meet their eyes. The destruction of this beautiful artifact seemed inconceivable, sacrilegious. How many rugs have to be pulled out from under you before you simply give in? So many near-misses! He felt a hand on his shoulder and knew without looking that it was his partner again.
“We don’t know what to do... therefore, we explore possibilities,” her soft voice sounded in his ear.
He looked up to meet her remarkable eyes. “First we figure out how to do the dirty deed, then we decide whether to do it... or not.” She nodded. He turned to meet the eyes of the watchful Ghostbusters.
“Dr. Spengler, Dr. Stanz—I suppose you guys know where this ‘engine room’ is?” he sighed.
Even if they’d been able to locate and decode the alien ship’s version of a “turbolift”, they could not have taken it, as power seemed to be out over most of the ship. The mysterious energy force that ran the bridge fueled only a dim, greenish phosphorescence running the length of the deck and “stairwells”, making progress difficult. The ship corridors were not only dark, they were creepy in their lack of clean, machine-made lines; the corridors seemed spun by insects; it was as if they had been injected, as in the movie Fantastic Voyage, into some enormous creature’s body and were now wandering through one of its veins. Mulder had been amused when Venkman muttered, “Hey, ma, lookit me, I’m a blood corpuscle” under his breath as they descended a ladder growing on the inside of one of the vertical tubes leading to other decks. Despite Spengler’s warning that their weapons were ineffectual against the alien ghosts, Venkman alone of the Ghostbusters had decided against leaving his proton pack behind with Captain Meller, and it looked as if he was finding the climb a difficult one.
Away from the machine-hum of the bridge, Mulder could hear, quite clearly, that infrequent, almost sub-sonic sound that had surprised him in his first moments on the ship. “It’s a heartbeat,” gasped Scully in recognition the third or forth time she’d heard it. The rush of forced fluid, the snap open and shut of the valves; he'd heard her counting seconds between beats under her breath as they made their way through the ship. There were approximately two minutes between beats.
The deep, slow heart-beat of the ship grew louder as they drew nearer to the engine room.
Conflicting emotions warred within Mulder as he followed close on the heels of Doctors Spengler and Stanz. They were steadfast in their mission and knew where they were going, walking with a moral certainty of which Mulder was desperately jealous. He wondered how the ship had looked when powered up—were these corridors brighter, or did the aliens need less light than a human?
His mind lead him down the increasingly morbid path it usually took when contemplating ‘close encounters’, to... his sister’s abduction. This could be the very ship. Had her small, bare feet paced this same corridor some twenty years earlier? Had she screamed and struggled in their grasp, or had she been tranquilized, carried on some sort of anti-gravity pallet? Had she lived much longer after her abduction or had she been sacrificed by the alien scientists in the name of higher learning, to gain information about “the primitives”, as Stanz had said they thought of us. Or was she still alive, maybe even walking on the soil of some other, distant planet?
He shivered, chilled to the marrow, yet the atmosphere wasn’t cold at all; quite the reverse, it was unventilated, oppressive and unpleasantly humid. He was about to reflect on the unhappy state of lab monkeys in our own, terrestrial laboratories when a thin whistle of awe broke his concentration and he looked up into the cheerful, open face of the much-recovered Dr. Stanz.
“End of the line!” Stanz almost chirped as he spoke, tapping Mulder on the back in a friendly manner. He gestured to a small alcove which seemed to lead to another much larger room. “You can go first if you’d like,” he continued with a smile. Mulder somehow knew Stanz was according him a great honor rather than attempting to get out of doing something dangerous. He returned the smile and nodded, and the group moved out of his way.
The antechamber was pitch black, which was useful, as it made his pupils dilate so that the larger room he stepped into seemed somehow brighter. The ceiling arched overhead reminded him of a cathedral, it dwarfed even the impressive ceiling that hung over the bridge; flying buttresses and odd, vine-like catwalks could be seen dimly all around. Mulder wondered if the ship had dug itself deep into the earth before its power had been spent or if it were, TARDIS-like, simply bigger on the inside than on the outside. They’d had no clue that the ship was this big.
He stepped over some debris on the floor, then saw that a lot of it wasn’t debris at all—the floor wasn’t flat, but instead had ridges indicating tunnels running through it. It reminded him of what a lawn looks like when infested by moles-in fact, he realized there were no smooth surfaces in the roughly spherical room at all. The sound that filled the room was equally confounding—a ‘squelching’, squeezing noise that repeated over and over with a machine-like staccato, yet un-machine-like—it was too organic. It put Mulder to mind of the noise his stomach made when it grumbled, except through a loudspeaker and on a taped loop.
“Come on in and be awed,” he spoke up clearly over his shoulder, and his fellow investigators filed in, eyes wide-open in awe.
“There,” one short word from Spengler focused everyone’s attention on a greenish-gray, 40-foot high, globular structure suspended by stretched and glistening ligaments and viscera-like tubes from a framework in the approximate center of the room. It reminded Mulder of ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’, painted by Hieronymus Bosch in the 16th century, and he said so.
“I don’t know about ‘delights’; yecch, it looks more like someone’s insides turned outside,” Venkman’s lip curled in disgust.
“It sort of is, Peter,” explained Stanz. “This is the source of their power, as well as of all our troubles. That’s the ship’s ‘stomach’ and it’s gonna crack, and soon.”
“And, as a rough comparison, just as our own stomach protects us from the hydrochloric acid that it contains, that stomach wall protects the ship from whatever inside of it. When what is inside breaches the stomach wall, there will be an explosion of biblical proportions,” Dr. Spengler said. They could all see that the bony structure the huge, pouch-like organ hung from was damaged; many of the struts were cracked in more than one place.
“We could prop it up,” began a hopeful Mulder, but Spengler interrupted him.
“No. This room was designed to exist without gravity—look above you—there are actually several doorways over our heads without steps leading to them. The walls of the receptacle are as unsound as the framework; it’s not easy to see the subtle damage caused by several weeks of earth’s gravitational pull, and it’s getting worse.”
Mulder was tired, and he was beginning to resent the ready answers Spengler seemed able to call up at a moment’s notice. He teetered on the edge of his decision, but he needed more information. “Okay. So, let’s assume that we have to destroy the ship... what do we do? Perhaps you could cut down the ‘stomach’ with your, uh, proton pack?”
“We haven’t been listening, have we?” said Venkman condescendingly. “If we cut down the tummy, we break it open and it goes ‘boom’, remember?”
Mulder shot him a resentful look. Here, he’d taken that critical step towards agreement with the necessity of the ship’s destruction, and sarcasm was the thanks he got for his trouble. “Okay, smart-ass, how do we destroy the ship without destroying the ‘stomach’ wall? It seems we’re in a Catch-22 situation,” he sniped.
No one answered Mulder’s question. Venkman shifted his shoulders under the heavy proton pack strapped to his back, plainly at a loss for words; Spengler fiddled uselessly with his PKE meter; Zeddemore shrugged helplessly—in fact, the entire group of investigators seemed confounded as to what might be the next step.
During their discussion, Stanz had wandered a short distance from the gently groaning ‘stomach’ and was looking up at a drooping distention in the wall some ten feet above their heads; the wrinkled mass of it rose another 16 feet higher than that and followed the curve of the wall as it became ceiling. Scully leaned over to Mulder and muttered, “I think I’d better stick close to him, I’m still a little worried about his color.” Mulder nodded in assent.
Scully stepped carefully over the ridged floor and began, “Excuse me, Doctor Stanz?” when, suddenly, the distention over his head bulged out like a balloon abruptly filled, wrinkles stretched to the bursting point. They jumped back in alarm for fear that it would pop. Just as suddenly, the balloon contracted sharply, leaving the wall with the appearance of a wrinkled, empty sac, as before. If Mulder hadn’t seen it, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“It’s the ‘heart’!” gasped Scully. “We found the ‘heart’ of the ship!”
“Thought so!” laughed Stanz.
“Whoopie-do,” muttered Venkman. He sounded distinctly unimpressed. Plainly tired of staring at a ‘stomach’ that did nothing but grumble to itself, he wandered over to look at the ‘heart’, Zeddemore following.
“Hmmm... the ‘heart’ is, in fact, the crux of the matter,” said Spengler to Mulder. “The aliens communicated to me and Ray how to stop the heart to trigger the ship’s self-destruct, but it was a very complicated procedure. Frankly, I don’t think I ever really understood how to do it. And now I’m losing what little knowledge I got from my experience on the bridge. I somehow doubt Ray’s going to be much help in this regard, either.”
“So. One way or another, this is going to be a heart-stopping experience after all,” muttered Mulder.
Spengler shot him a look of betrayal. “Special Agent Mulder,” he said. “I think the situation is bad enough without having to resort to puns.”
“Well, here’s another one for you, Dr. Spengler,” Mulder shook his head sadly. “I don’t think I can give you a rational reason for my change of—sorry—heart, but I agree with you and Dr. Stanz. You’re right. We can’t gamble with the lives of half of the people in New York City, let alone the chance of a nuclear winter, against the possibility of taking ownership of what is undoubtedly the neatest damned toy I’ve ever seen in my entire life. We have to destroy this ship. Somehow, we have to stop that heart.”
* * * * *
“Stop a heart? Did you say something about stopping the heart?” Scully said. She fingered her chin, lost in thought, then turned back to stare hard at the empty balloon that hung above her head. Just beneath the surface of the translucent wall, she could see a network of thick pipes leading to and from the leathery bag—arteries and veins, if the bio-engineering comparison held true.
“There are, in fact, several ways to stop a heart.” She saw that many of the pipes had access ports, most of them capped, but others had been knocked open. No ship’s ‘blood’ leaked out, she noted with great interest. There were valves in the access ports, allowing entry, but preventing the fluid in the pipes from spurting out. “I suppose they could be applied in this case, as in any earth animal equipped with a heart,” she continued her thought.
Venkman snapped his fingers. “That’s right! You’re a medical-type doctor, aren’t you! Hippocratic Oath be damned, you can help us Kevorkianize this puppy!”
“Can’t we just blast it with your proton pack, Pete?” Mr. Zeddemore said, then corrected himself. “No, not smart. We blast the ‘heart’, we get caught in the self-destruct sequence. We’re gonna want something a little more subtle that’ll let us walk away from this one, I hope.”
“Yeah, I don’t enjoy the idea of winding up like those Klingons in Star Trek III; crash, bang, boom,” Venkman said, pulling the heavy nuclear device from his back and laying it on the deck. “I could set it to self-destruct, giving us time to get away?”
“Nooo,” mused Scully, more to herself than to the rest of the group. She looked at her feet and confirmed that not all of the bumps and ridges were embedded beneath the floor—plenty of piping, jarred loose from its moorings, littered the deck. Hmmm, possibly useful… God only knew from what life-supporting mechanisms they’d been ripped when the ship had crash-landed. Now, were there the equivalent of 'lungs’, to aerate the ship? She could barely make out something that looked like a cross between a huge calliope and a giant-sized bellows across the darkened room. That looks promising.
“Unless you can pin-point the blast exactly,” she continued, “you might take out the stomach wall along with the heart, before the self-destruct programming could come on-line, and that... that would be bad—you know, I really think I have an idea.”
“We could certainly use one of those about now,” Mulder said in regretful tones.
She turned to him, to tell him about her idea, but stopped. Somewhere along the line, when she wasn’t looking, he’d apparently come to the conclusion that the Ghostbusters were right. Now he looked like a small boy on the verge of losing his puppy… no, that wasn’t right. It would be more apt to say he looked like a small boy on the verge of losing... his sister. “God, I’m so sorry, Mulder.”
“S’okay.” He shrugged. “I’m getting used to this unfinished-business thing. It’s not like we haven’t had this sort of thing happen to us before.”
* * * * *
It was a helluva contraption, one even Rube Goldberg would have been proud of it, if Mulder did say so himself. And he’d helped. They all had. God, he was depressed.
Through the gloom, he could see the glittering expanse of pipes that stretched from one side of the engine room to the other, connecting the calliope/bellows air-compression mechanism—or the ship’s ‘lungs’, as Scully liked to call it—to the ship’s pipes, or ‘arteries’, leading to the deflated-looking goiter that acted as the ship’s ‘heart’. Mulder was getting a bit woozy with all the bio-comparisons.
The ship’s lungs were pumping but, like the ship’s heart, only barely; hence, the oppressive, humid atmosphere in the ship’s corridors. Either the lungs were damaged or they simply didn’t have enough power to operate efficiently; they were betting on the latter. They’d almost given up on Scully’s mad scheme when they realized they’d need a lot more power, until Spengler and Stanz had come up with a brilliant plan that utilized the nuclear particle accelerator in Venkman’s proton pack as an alternate power source. “Ha! I knew it’d come in handy,” Venkman had said smugly.
The two mad scientists had clucked and muttered over the power connections on one slide of the lungs while, on the other side, Venkman and Zeddemore had done their ‘plumbing’ under Scully’s direction. Her solution was devilishly complicated—yet also frighteningly simple. Bubbles of air, injected into the blood-stream leading to the heart, will stop that heart cold, in mid-pump. She proposed to inject some bubbles of air into the ship’s heart.
“All right, it looks good,” said Stanz. “We’ve slaved the circuitry in Peter’s particle accelerator to the board with help from the last bit of alien knowledge we could dredge up from our memories. It’s all pretty much faded now, like what happened to McCoy after he used the ‘teacher’ in that really bad episode, Spock’s Brain. God help us!”
“I believe the expression is ‘God helps those who help themselves,’” sighed Mulder. He’d dragged long, undamaged piping out from under damaged paneling, he’d searched for and found a box of alien engineering tools that helped them attach the pipes to the access ports, he’d even acted as a gofer for Stanz and Spengler while manfully suppressing the urge to say ‘Yes, maaahster’—but he was damned if he was going to be cheerful about it.
“We’re finished here, too,” said Zeddemore. “It’s a good job, it’ll hold—you’re a genius, Agent Scully!”
She smiled at the complement, but didn’t seem convinced. “If it works, Mr. Zeddemore, I’m a genius. If it doesn’t....” She left the rest of the thought unspoken.
The same small group of humans that had stood on the alien bridge at odds with one another now stood united in a common cause, in the middle of what they’d done... in the middle of what they’d soon destroy.
Theoretically, when Spengler pushed the button on Venkman’s nuclear particle accelerator, the energy unleashed would jump-start the calliope/bellows mechanism, which would, theoretically, start pushing air through the pipes they’d attached to the access ports in the veins. Then, theoretically, the bubbles of air would push their way through the one-way valves in the access ports, then through the heavy liquid in the veins, and then, theoretically, to the heart. The theoretical bubbles of air would theoretically stop the heart. When the heart stopped, the ship’s self-destruct mechanism would kick in, safely (ha! “safely”, funny) destroying the ship before the energy in the ‘stomach’ could explode, taking part of Secaucus and most of Manhattan with it.
At least that was the theory.
Mulder felt a pang in his chest, feeling the loss as keenly as if she were already self-destructed. It couldn’t equal the pain he felt when he thought of his sister, but it was definitely up there.
He leaned over to his partner and said, in a stage whisper, “This won’t hurt a bit?”, and she gave him a sympathetic look. Even Venkman seemed to recognize the small bit of gallow’s humor for what it was; he reached across and patted the depressed Special Agent on the shoulder encouragingly.
* * * * *
“Let us all be very clear on this,” intoned Egon in his best you’d-better-take-this-seriously-Peter-or-else manner. “When I throw this switch, we move out of here in as swift a fashion as possible. We have no idea how quickly the air-compressor will push the bubbles through the pipes, nor do we have any idea just how much air it’s going to take to stop the ship’s heart. So we get out.”
“Egon’s right. Think ‘fire drill’—move calmly, but quickly,” agreed Ray. “Egon, I’ll be leader, I still remember the way out pretty well. After you push the button, you can bring up the rear. Try not to trip.”
Egon moved carefully over the uneven deck to the proton pack. The rest of the group stood near the exit, waiting. He hated to admit to the weakness, but he was glad they’d decided, without a need for discussion, that it was one for all and all for one—they’d entered as a group, and leave the same way. He didn’t relish the idea of being alone in the engine room, not to mention having to make his way out of the ship on his own.
He adjusted his red-rimmed glasses on his nose, contemplating the task before him. The act of pushing a button was simplicity itself but, as the alien urgency implanted in his mind diminished, he was beginning to find it a difficult act to commit. His eyes roved over the multiple connections from human-created nuclear accelerator to alien air-compression device; it shouldn’t work, it couldn’t work—but he knew it would. He also knew he was just stalling—possibly an unhealthy move, as they really had no idea when the ‘stomach’ walls would finally give way, to New York City’s great misfortune as well as their own. As a nuclear physicist, he knew there was no place in science for sentimentality, but he did regret the destruction of the fantastic ship. Dismissing the emotion, he pushed the button.
The nuclear particle accelerator sprang to life, the familiar hum starting on the low end of human hearing, building to a higher pitch as it warmed up. When it reached its highest pitch, it began to transferring power to the alien mechanism, which began to hum and warble on its own wave-length. Egon watched, utterly entranced. Lights raced each other across the face of the alien machine, the bellows on the other side groaned and heaved. He suddenly realized he could feel a breeze of clean, cooled air on his face and was looking around for the source, when he became vaguely aware of someone yelling his name.
* * * * *
“Egon! Egon! For the love of—,” Zeddemore waved his arms at the mesmerized nuclear physicist, desperately trying to get his attention. “What a time for a trip to la-la land!”
“What is with the man?” Mulder muttered, baffled. “This is the guy who warned us to get the hell out of here ASAP, right? Dr. Spengler! Yo!”
“I think our Egon’s in love,” said Venkman. “Rather predictable, really.”
Spengler turned and saw them, then came to life with an almost comical look of surprise on his face when he realized what was happening. Mulder was relieved to see the scientist start to pick his way across the engine room, his progress made easier by the fact that the ship’s lights were coming on line, illuminating his way. But as Spengler got near the exit, the deck began to pitch and yaw beneath his feet and the terrifying scream of straining metal filled the air.
“C’mon! Jump!” screamed Mulder, gesturing with his arms in case the message wasn’t getting through. A look of panic etched on his features, Spengler launched himself over a pile of debris instead of going around it, to be grabbed in mid-air by the agitated FBI agent.
“Egon, you idiot,” yelled Venkman over the noise. “Next time, I get to push the self-destruct button!”
They were all tossed about the ship’s corridors and stairwells like dried peas in a jar as the ship shook with the assimilated power of the nuclear particle accelerator. Mulder made his way as best he could, aiding the fallen and being helped in turn when he lost his footing. Fortunately the walls seemed to be made of a shock-absorbing substance, and he and his companions managed to half-crawl, half-run their way to bridge without much more than a few bruises.
The vari-colored stations that surrounded the captain’s chair flashed on and off and a piercing whoop instantly recognizable as ‘Red Alert’ filled the bridge, urging all of them on like a herd of panicked cattle. Mulder gave Scully a sharp shove in the small of her back to go first through the crack in the hull. Apparently she wasn’t about to waste time arguing with that bit of rough gallantry, because she ducked her head and exited. Bits of the ceiling came crashing down as each member of the group squeezed through and out after her, into the blessed twilight of a summer night; Stanz, then Zeddemore, Venkman, Spengler... and last came Mulder. He felt he owed that much to himself, to be the final passenger on the incredible alien ship—even if they’d never left the ground.
He exited backwards, giving a last, longing look at what he’d helped destroy, then was outside and found himself on his knees on the grass. Someone grabbed his arm and hustled him away as the ship keened in its death-throws, but he couldn’t see where he was going because of the tears in his eyes.
* * * * *
Peter dropped from the crack in the hull, almost landing on Winston, who rolled out of the way barely in time. He felt the spongy soil beneath his fingers and resisted the urge to give it a big kiss, rolling out of the way in turn to avoid getting Egon’s big feet planted in his back. Getting his bearings, he looked up and saw Police Captain Meller hovering over the three proton packs he’d been left behind to guard, clutching his gun uselessly. The last of their expedition, that special agent guy, dropped to the ground, but he seemed to have gotten some smoke in his eyes; fortunately, the delectable Dana Scully kept her head and grabbed his arm, spinning him away from the ship.
“Go! Go!” yelled Peter at the top of his lungs, unsure if anyone could hear him over the roar of the self-destructing ship and he stumbled in the captain’s direction as the ground shook beneath him. He knew they had to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the ship before she blew, but wondered if it would be enough.
“Grab the packs, the proton packs! Aaaargh! Ya didn’t grab the proton packs!” yelled Peter, bringing up the rear, but nobody listened to him—typical! He was, as a rule, not happy when expensive equipment got left behind to be destroyed in world-shattering cataclysms. He managed to snag one of the heavy particle accelerators by a strap as he ran by, but couldn’t carry all three.
Peter followed Captain Meller’s broad back as the captain lead the group over the top of a small hill that might prove a shield against a blast. Tripping over a clump of crabgrass, he hit the dirt and dug in, covering his head with his arms as protection—but if the ship was going to take out most of the swamp and half of Manhattan, there was no way any of them were going to survive it.
He heard, rather than saw, the implosion that took the ship from them. There was a sound like a vast sucking-in of breath, a swift, in-rushing wind that blew over him towards the ship, an audible pop... and it was over. Silence.
Slowly Peter peered out from behind his arms, to find himself face-to-face with the soft blue eyes of Agent Scully. She looked cute with a smudge of dirt across her nose and bits of grass in her hair, and he grinned at her and winked. She gave a lady-like snort of disdain and pulled herself to her knees, away from him. Women. You survive The End Of The World with ‘em and they still won’t give you the time of day.
He picked himself up off the ground, shaking his arms and legs to check for damage, and saw the rest of the group doing likewise. Finding nothing more than bruises, he hefted the proton pack he’d rescued and walked back to the spot the ship had occupied, to find... nothing. Just a deep, scarred depression in the shape of a hemisphere, some broken trees, and the smell of burnt metal. His friends clustered around him and they all peered into the crater in silence. The self-destruct had kicked in, and had literally deleted the ship from its existence as a crashed and broken derelict on the planet. No ‘primitives’ would gain knowledge from it now.
“I still think it was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside—and now, it’s a hole,” said Peter, with some finality. He handed off the proton pack to a grave-looking Egon, who stood staring at the scorched grass they’d all been running over mere moments ago. “This is yours, Egon, I’ll be damned if I’m gonna lug it around for you after I saved it—and you’re welcome.” Egon took it from him with a grateful, if dazed, nod.
Winston bent down to pick up his proton pack, which had somehow escaped destruction. Ray’s was not so lucky as it had been just over the line into the circle of destruction, and were now the source of the burnt metal smell. The occultist peeked into the abyss. “Wow! The ship just up and disappeared, the same way they used to when they got zapped on that old TV show, The Invaders!”
Agent Scully threw her hands in the air. “Thank you! Thank you, Dr. Stanz! If I heard one more Star Trek reference out of you gentlemen, I think I might have screamed!” she took the sting out of her words with a charming smile. “I’ll cop to the occasional Trek episode—everyone’s seen that show, if only once. I never saw the show you mentioned, what was it, The Invaders? ...but I bet you did, Mulder.”
Her partner laughed softly, as if at a private joke. “Yeah, I’ve seen it. However, I like to think I have a better sense of humor than David Vincent—he was the main character on the show and he was grim. Though I’ll tell you, Scully, I can certainly understand his paranoia.”
“I’m so sorry, Mulder,” Scully shook her head in commiseration. Mulder just shrugged. Peter had to give the guy credit for guts.
It was past time to go. The ghost-busting psychologist picked up a couple of scattered ghost traps and clicked them onto his belt, and saw Ray do the same. It looked like Ray had gotten over his traumatic alien possession, but Peter made a mental note to run some tests on his resilient buddy, just to be sure.
As the sun fell low in the summer sky and the stars slowly appeared at the edge of the eastern horizon, Captain Meller set out in the direction of their cars, and Peter, for once without a ready comment, fell in step behind him. He was tired, tired down to his bones—and he bet he wasn’t the only one. He glanced over his shoulder to see that, of the entire group, only Mulder looked back as they left.
* * * * *
The Great Falls Diner Secaucus, New Jersey
August 17, 1994 12:05 AM
Coffee, and lots of it, was definitely in order, and a stop at one of the great American diners of New Jersey was a must for both agents and all four Ghostbusters. They bid a relieved Captain Meller good-bye and drove to a local diner often frequented by the police, as recommended to them by the captain.
Once there, they took over a large corner table and started swapping tall tales, all of which happened to be true, late into the night. The waitress, amused by her unusual clients, kept them well-stocked with strong coffee, and swiftly trotted out a dazzling array of fattening home-baked desserts. Mulder knew he needed the caffeine and sugar after what he’d just been through.
“Have I mentioned I saw Silence of the Lambs four times?” said Venkman across the table to Scully, somehow still in there, pitching. “I have this thing about good-looking, super-smart lady FBI agents.” The guy was irrepressible.
His partner tilted her head sideways and regarded the overly-confident Ghostbuster suspiciously out of narrowed eyes. “As long as you don’t have a ‘thing’ about liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti, Dr. Venkman,” she said drily.
But Venkman refused to be rattled, and just grinned back at her. “Sure, I can take you to dinner—I know a great little Italian restaurant, it’s on the West Side—no fava beans, but they do a great calf’s liver in wine sauce. They don’t know it, but they owe us big-time. But now is a strange time to be thinking about food; you just snarfed down three helpings of apple pie.” Score one for the Ghostbuster. Mulder was impressed.
Scully did not deign to answer, but favored Venkman with one of her patented “give me a break, you sad little man” looks. Mulder marveled at how she could do more with less expression than anyone else he knew—and it was nice to see some one other than himself as the recipient of that silent, blue-crystal stare. He suspected that someone had once told her if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, and she’d taken it completely to heart.
“They called us ‘primitives’,” Stanz said, picking up the thread of their previous conversation, “...that suggests they think of us as intelligent beings, albeit uncivilized ones, not just animals.”
Mulder was not persuaded. “Which means precisely nothing in real-time, Dr. Stanz. Even according us the status of ‘beings’, it wouldn't necessarily stop them from experimenting on us, enslaving us, obliterating us when we get in the way—referring to us as 'primitives' could merely be a self-congratulatory notation that we don't have the technology needed to stop them rather than an admission that we are somehow on the same evolutionary path to the level of 'rational, sentient being' that they currently hold, and therefore worthy of their respect.”
“History has shown us that whenever we humans have destroyed our fellow humans, we’ve accorded the ones we’ve destroyed to a lower status of humanity or even more conveniently relegated them to non-humanity,” Zeddemore mused. “Which may go to show these aliens are a lot more human than is gonna be healthy for us, should they ever decide to come back again.”
Mulder blinked at that last, but did not say anything, merely compressing his mouth into a line as if to keep his response inside. Launching into a rant detailing the specifics on what he suspected the aliens had done, were capable of doing, and would surely do in the future would do nothing more than bring the conversation to a halt—and really, what could the Ghostbusters do about an alien invasion? It was pointless to burden them with the knowledge that it was an ongoing event.
“But they were very upset about the city being blown up—‘poor humans’, they said!” Stanz protested. “They were inside my head and I could feel how upset they were about it.”
“Ray, anyone might feel bad if their lab rats had got stepped on, but it wouldn’t put a dent in their lives for very long,” Zeddemore said gently to his friend. “Besides, they were looking through the eyes of a great humanist—Ray Stanz!” he lifted his coffee cup in salute. “That may merely have been your take on how the aliens should have been feeling. Ray, you are, simply, a good man—they are not men, and our ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ may be, well... alien to them.”
“At any rate, we missed our chance at the brass ring this time,” Mulder sighed. “If we’d had a chance to remove just one piece of machinery, to study it. We’re helpless... they can, and do, do as they please with us. They’ve been here before. They’ll be back again.” And that was as far as he'd go on that topic.
Scully sipped the last of the dregs in her cup, then pushed it from her. She looked like she’d had enough for one night. “Perhaps they mean us well in the big picture, perhaps what they’re doing is for the best. Or not. It’s... it’s difficult, isn’t it, to look at the sky, and not be more than a little frightened. We don’t know what or why or who—we don’t even know the right questions to ask. And it’s the waiting, not knowing the truth, that’s the hardest part.”
“Well, ya know what they say, Agent Scully,” Venkman leaned towards Scully, raising his eyebrows to help make his point. “The truth is out there. Unfortunately, it just so happens to be wa-a-ay out there.”