The Pods, p.1Michael Carter
by Michael Carter (C) 1997
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The invasion was over before most people had discovered it had begun. It was during the night of the 23rd/24th of November that the things floated down from the sky in metal pods, red hot and steaming from their unbidden passage through our atmosphere. If you were outside at the time, or looking out from a window, you'd be able to see dozens of them slowly descending to Earth.
The ones that my brother and I saw were pretty typical, so said the news reports that we heard later; at first a twinkling in the heavens, imperceptible from a star until it grew closer, nearer, growing larger and glowing, and with a short sharp trail behind it which ended abruptly as if physically cut off. They came down not as comets or meteorites would, not at an angle, but just down; straight down, horizontally, wavering occasionally in an unsteady flight-path.
The nearest one to our house fell in the field just down from Oakmans Wood, up behind the estate. We - James and me - had seen them from the bedroom, and went outside for a better look. We watched that particular one land a couple of streets and a field away. It didn't take long for us to go for a closer look, and in a couple of minutes we were up there watching it cool down from the top of the field, sitting behind the fence like schoolkids waiting for conkers to fall.
James gave a worried laugh at one point and told me that he expected it to screw itself open like the thing in `The War of the Worlds' did. He's young and naive. He believes that kind of thing could really happen. I told him not to be silly and he shut up. Like me, he was probably listening for the creaking squeak of a revolving metal lid, and ready to scarper when a serpentine heat-ray-wielding construction lumbered out.
I wouldn't have been totally surprised if something had crawled out of it; perhaps a creature from the Id, maybe a green man, or even a tiny globule of amorphous jelly. I'd seen the movies, I knew the drill. If something popped its ugly head (tentacle? jelly? Probing one-lobed eye?) out of the canister then you had to rush off to the police, and their job was to ridicule you and lock you up for the night.
So my thoughts were going as James interrupted my flow, excitedly pointing out another of the things heading straight for us.
"Paul, it's going to hit us."
"Not if we get out of the way, it isn't."
"What if it's a heat-seeker? What if it's a pod-person going to suck in our bodies and replicate us?" I looked at him for a moment, instead of the thing.
"Shut up!" His gaze never moved from the descending object.
"I don't know about shutting up, " he said, "but I'm off, mate."
He then did as he had portended, run off, up into the outskirts of the wood, dark, scary, but an ideal place to hide. I looked up again, slackened my jaw, and followed suit, twice as quick as he had done.
We'd just reached the supposed safety of the trees when it came crashing down into the concreted-in fenceposts, merely ten feet from where we had been. It made a slight hiss - like an oversteaming kettle - while it descended, but that ended sharply and was replaced with an explosion of crushed, clanging and twisted metal, as the object plunged with great velocity into the solid concrete menhirs.
There were no flames at all. A few sparks, sure, and initially there was a lot of smoke, but when this had cleared, the carnage was suitably arranged around the dented henge for us to get a good look at the make-up and structure of the, as James had called them, `invaders from Outer Space'. He'd seen too many Godzilla movies.
"There's nothing in 'em." said James, sounding disappointed.
"Where's the slime?" He was absolutely correct in his observations.
Where was the slime? Where was the pilot, the crew, the whatever-it-was that was inside that thing.
"There's nothing in the bloody things!" he repeated, this time with a mild curse thrown in. All we could see was wreckage; twisted, uncharred, wrangled metal, plus a few other elements; something that looked like glass; a piece of what seemed to be foil of some description, a smashed but still recognisable phial containing nothing whatsoever, and with no apparent leakage where it lay. Then James spotted the canister.
We had to wait a while - quite a long while, maybe three hours - until the metal had cooled down enough to be touched. When we did eventually get around to picking some of the pieces up, I remember noting that the other pod, the one at the bottom of the field, was still mildly steaming, cooling down. I figured that because this pod had smashed open it must have therefore cooled down quicker. I didn't really know. I'm no scientist.
While I was meandering on this observation James had ran over and picked the canister up.
"Maybe it's a message from the Martians." he said on the way back towards me. "Perhaps they don't want to wipe us out, after all." I saw him hold it up to his ear, then.
"It's not ticking." he said as he approached me.
"So it's not an invasion of three-fingered blood-sucking hermaphrodites, and it's not a bomb, so what is it?" He looked at me, puzzled.
"Which movie was that?"
"The three-fingered blood-sucking hermawotsits?" He remained puzzled while I laughed.
"I was being sarcastic." He unwinced.
"Oh. Right. Shame, would've made a great movie."
Understanding that I was older than him, and he was simply my protoge, he handed me his prize, still pretty warm but easily handled. It was about the size of a normal insulating flask, and pretty much the same shape. The comparison was followed even further, with a lid-like cap at one end, which presumably screwed off.
"Does it open? Are you going to open it?" asked Paul, honestly expecting perhaps a dead alien foetus, or some grand recorded tape bearing an invasion ultimatum or a formula for world peace.
"I don't know," I said, "perhaps we should give it to the police or something."
"Or NASA? Maybe we'd get a reward, or a mention on the news." His eyes lit up. "Paul, we could be famous!"
"I suppose if we do hand it in, it wouldn't hurt to take a little peek first."
"Aw, yes. Cool. C'mon then, open it up."
I nodded and took a deep breath. This was exciting, sure; exhilarating, the kind of thing that every boy dreams about; finding a crashed spaceship and rummaging around in its wreckage. But it still felt wrong. Part of me, standing in the cool field that night, cradling this artefact from the stars, wanted simply to do my duty to humanity and hand it in to the authorities, getting praised in the process. Also, I thought, it could be dangerous. James was a bit obsessed with his ideas from monsters and ray-guns from Outer Space, but in a way he was right; we had no idea whatsoever as to what could be lurking in that metal container, and I especially felt a tinge of that older-brother responsibility for him, even more so now that Dad
had died. Dad would've known what to do. I wondered.
"What would Dad do, do you think?" James never hesitated with his answer,
"Dad would open it and see what was inside. You know what Dad was like, James. Anyway, he'd probably say that there were plenty other pods that had come down, and the Government could find their own. C'mon, Paul, take the lid off." That last bit sounded like a schoolboy plead, but what he'd said actually made sense. There were plenty of other pods falling all over the place, and if we'd found one crashed and wrecked, then certainly there should be others that had had a less than perfect landing somewhere else. I decided what to do
I held the canister under my left arm, while with my right hand I gripped the lid and tried twisting it. Clockwise, first and it wouldn't budge.
"Try it the other way." James said. I did.
"Still no joy. Maybe it's on too tight." I tried both directions again, twisting a little harder than before, but still nothing moved. Then James had a brainwave.
"Try pushing down on it as well, you know, like those stupid tablet bottles." I gave him a knowing look, with perhaps a touch of jealousy because I, the older brother, hadn't thought of it myself.
I set it down on the grass - cap up - bending over it and pressing all my upper weight through my right hand. I felt it move, underneath my hand, imperceptibly, but it definitely slid a fraction. James must have seen my arm jerk a little.
"Have you got it?" he asked, in the high-pitched rapid voice he usually saved for Christmas.
"It moved a touch, I think. I'll have to try and-" I cut myself off, mid-sentence, as my twistings this way and that had produced a metallic click from inside.
"I think I've got it." James crouched down next to the standing canister, me still putting my weight on it, and twisting slowly clockwise. It was moving, and even if James couldn't really see the casing slowly revolving, he could certainly hear the occasional click, every time the cap made a half-turn.
James watched critically in wonder while I continued to twist off the cap, getting looser with every revolution.
"Can't you hurry it up a bit?" I nearly asked him if he wanted to do it instead, but just in time I reminded myself that he would just rush into it, taking the cap off like it was wrapping-paper on a new chemistry set.
"I'm just being careful. Be patient, alright."
Then at last when I turned it there was no click, and we both knew that the cap was ready to just lift off.
"Can I do it?" asked James, enthusiasm over-riding common-sense.
"Just leave it to me, okay? We still don't know what's in there."
"Why didn't it hiss and steam come out when you loosened the top?" I thought about it for a while.
"I don't know, James." I didn't. Maybe steam should've come out, or maybe not. It always did in the movies. I sighed, heavily, and swallowed my fear down with my saliva.
"Right. Let's do it."
"Yay!" Slowly, with my right hand, I lifted the cap off. At first it didn't seem to want to leave, and it took me a while to realise that something was connected to the cap. An isotope, or something, I thought. I lifted the cap up horizontally, and the metallic cylinder soon came into view. James looked puzzled; he'd no doubt expected jelly-monsters.
"What is it?" he asked. I didn't answer but scrutinised the cylinder closely, fancying that in the moonlight I could just make out some markings written - or more likely carved - into the metal surface.
"Is there anything else in there?" I asked James, nodding towards the canister. He held it up to the light the best he could, peered in, and then, to make sure, held it upside down. Nothing fell out.
"Nope. Looks like we've already got first prize." He put the canister down now, having lost interest in it, and I handed him the cylinder-wielding lid. He looked at it carefully.
"Hey, there's some writing on here. We should take it home and have a proper look."
"That's what I intend to do; now that I've broke and entered I at least want to see what I've nicked." I lowered the cap back on but didn't screw it back into place. Then we left the field, James with wonder and excitement in his eyes, and me with a metal tea-flask under my arm. In the distance, we could still see the pods falling.
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