a tale of the Human Extinction Agency
by Quentin 'Cubist' Long
Eating at Joe's the day after, my friends were worried when
I gave 'em the story. I was kind of concerned myself, for that
"Maybe you're finally losing it," Alice observed dispassionately. "You wouldn't be the first to crack since the cloud boys showed up; we're getting a lot more domestic violence, jumpers, crazy shit in general." And Alice was a beat cop... I didn't want to think about what kind of nastiness she'd collected under the label "crazy shit in general".
"That's to be expected, really," Holst said. "Any change carries with it some degree of stress, and changes that strike at the fundamental basis of one's identity are the most stressful of all."
"I suppose different people can tolerate different levels of stress before they snap..." Harriet mused.
"Exactly. Now, I believe the Nacalites want the transition to be as painless as possible. But no matter what they do to make things run smoothly, the simple fact that there is a transition will necessarily cause a lot of --"
"Enough!" I interrupted. "What's that got to do with me freaking out yesterday?"
"Ah... nothing," Holst said, blinking in surprise as he shifted mental gears. "It's a matter of individual tolerance levels, and I would judge yours to be very high indeed." Unsure where he was going, I gestured for him to continue: "Anger is your coping mechanism, Andrew. While I can't say I've ever approved, I must admit that on you it looks good -- I've never seen you hit with anything you couldn't handle by turning up the heat a little more, so to speak. As to your apparent loss of control, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that your Nacalite friend was behind it. In order for you to study him, you agreed to let him study you, right?"
My brain hurt when I saw what he was driving at. "You mean... the son of a bitch played with my head as some kind of test?"
"Sure, to a first approximation. He's a specialist in 'high-energy psychistry', I think you said? Okay, then. My guess would be that he wanted to see how humans would respond to some psionic technique to heighten emotional intensity. Want to bet that your friend had some way of insulating himself from super-hot emotions?"
I stared at him. "Have I told you lately how much you scare me when you're like this?"
Holst shrugged. "No big deal; it's just an educated guess. Mind you, I do think..."
I got *?'s message to reschedule, and three days later, there
were two (count 'em, two) gasbags on my doorstep. One I could
just recognize as my old buddy, and the other was news to me. *? was
doing a poor job of hiding distress; I wondered what was bothering
"You're early," I stated in a neutral tone. "Who's the new kid, and to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I come to resume our interrupted colloquy," said the gasbag I knew. No formal greeting for me? Yep, *? definitely had something on its mind. "My companion is ^#. In human terms, we are mentor and student." So *? was a teacher as well as a scholar, then. "He shall assist me today and... perhaps on other days as well."
I nodded to acknowledge ^#'s presence, then addressed *?: "What now, Coach?"
Something I couldn't quite catch -- too fast -- rushed through my buddy's substance, and I'm pretty sure the other one had something similar, too. "Now I would recommend that you locate a chair you enjoy sitting in."
That was interesting. "Really," I said with raised eyebrows. "In that case, let's go around back." They followed me to the postmodern gazebo -- my share of a 7-sided commission I'll have to explain some time -- in my back yard, where my most comfortable lawn chair was.
I sat down, adjusted the back support, and relaxed with my hands behind my head. "Next?" I inquired.
"Next we shall attempt mental fusion of the lowest degree," *? replied. "In order to minimize disorientation, it would be advisable for you to close your eyes while it is being established."
I frowned. "Mental fusion," I stated uncertainly. "As in, put two mutually alien minds into a blender and press for 'pureé'."
A momentary pause, broken when *? said, "Your concern is largely misplaced. The lowest degree of mental fusion is merely a means for achieving direct communication between unlike minds."
So they were going for a form of telepathy, then. But -- "'Largely misplaced', you said?"
"As you stated, our minds are mutually alien. There is a non-zero possibility of complications, but we feel that the risk is worth taking in this case."
"Do you really?" Mental fusion... For a moment, I thought about that antiseptic word, complications, and I shuddered at what it could mean. Then again, maybe I might be able to pick up something interesting from *? in the process? But what if -- aah, the Hell with it. Omelettes and eggshells. "Alright, let's rock. But I'm warning you now: If I end up a drooling psychotic freak, I'm going to be very unhappy with you."
"The danger is not yours alone. All participants in a mental fusion are potentially at risk," *? said quietly. A phrase leaped into my mind: You'd walk naked into a blast furnace if you thought you could learn something new. My respect for *? went up a couple of notches. He continued: "Again, it would be advisable for you to close your eyes --"
"-- in order to minimize disorientation. No prob." I closed my eyes. "Bring da noize."
Nothing happened for moment... then... fusion. Look, it's not like much of anything else, alright? I don't think I have the words for it -- don't think anybody does, to be honest. Try describing 'green' to a person who's never seen colors. Anyway, if it's ever happened to you, you don't need a description; if you're still a virgin, words won't tell you a damn thing.
So: Fusion. The sensation didn't end, but it soon faded out to a low background level. Not bad, exactly, just... odd. I let myself grow accustomed to it, then asked, "Alright, when can I open my eyes?"
I heard *?s voice, the tone different from what I was used to: "You may do so now. We were exercising caution, as is both prudent and appropriate in connection with a sentient's first mental fusion."
I looked around as soon as I heard the word "now": I wasn't in my gazebo any more, and I wasn't alone. From the looks of things, I was at a sidewalk bistro or some such, sharing my table with a young Japanese man dressed in business casual (white long-sleeved shirt, black high-water trousers, narrow black tie, white socks and black leather shoes) and someone who looked like Joel Grey made up as a venerable Oriental -- no gasbags in sight. Both of these humans observed me with great interest. The younger man spoke with *?'s voice, for some reason.
When the young man finished, I asked, "Alright, what's going on here?"
Not-Joel Grey spoke, his deep voice not much like that of the character he resembled: "Describe the environment, youth."
Must have been ^# talking? I did what he asked, noting something odd about my voice, something I couldn't put a finger on. After I finished, Not-Grey replied, "This is mental fusion; your mind percieves it directly, not through the intermediary of your sensory organs. As is common among novices, your mind clothes the direct perceptions in a symbology of personal significance."
I thought about that for a moment. "Okay... and why do you look human?" The younger man quickly stifled a smile; Not-Grey only raised one eyebrow.
"You percieve our self-images, filtered through the lens of your personal symbology."
Oh... Never mind, on to business. "So you want I should pick up where we left off?"
The younger man, presumably *?, opened his mouth to respond, but Not-Grey stopped him with a gesture, inhumanly swift. "I would have the information from your mind directly," it said. "With your permission, please."
I gave it a crooked smile. "And if I don't feel like letting you?"
Its face held an expression of dispassionate curiosity, as though it were pondering an intellectual puzzle. "In that case, I believe you would be in violation of the agreement between you and *?, would you not?"
Oh, yeah. That. "Alright... just curious. Go for it. Anything I should do?"
Its expression shifted, became slightly unfocused, as it said, "It would be helpful if you could adopt an unguarded frame of mind..."
"Unguarded, huh?" Not-Grey, I mean ^#, was one of those sanctimonious bastard gasbags who wanted to erase my species from the Universe; opening my mind to him was about as appealing as a dinner date with Jeffrey Dahmer. That's nice. You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, I told myself. "I'm not sure I can do that, but I'll try," I promised. Personal symbology... I shut my eyes and imagined my mind as a pipeline, its inside diameter large enough for a man to stand up in with room to spare, and a massive swarm of bright sparkles -- my symbol for pure, raw information -- flowing freely through it in both directions.
I felt... it was sort of a variant form of the "mental fusion" sensation. If it wasn't so damned alien, I think it might have been something I could learn to enjoy; as it was, my brain trembled badly enough to shatter the pipeline-image I was trying to hold onto. However much "unguarded" I'd managed to accumulate, all of it vanished on the spot.
Not-Grey wasn't particularly concerned. Or unhappy. "My compliments. Training you lack, yet strong you are in the Force." Yes, it was a Yoda accent; I almost laughed -- but how did the gasbag know about Star Wars -- how much information had ^# retrieved from my brain -- was my agenda still hidden -- but if it was my personal symbology -- My thoughts whirled like an fuel-injected centrifuge.
The bistro vanished. So did the feeling of mental fusion. I was back in the real world, panting lightly, two gasbags within arm's reach. "What the Hell was that?" I asked insistently.
Not-Grey pondered a moment. "Feedback loop," it said at length, clearing up absolutely nothing. "One of the lesser hazards of mental fusion, easily contained. So: Until interrupted by a seizure of overintense emotion, you were explaining your species' inability to live in biospheric harmony as a consequence of Nacalite activities on your world. Had you any thoughts to add?"
"Now, just a --" I began, then stopped. My first thought was to demand that ^# tell me how much info it'd ripped out of my brain, but what difference would it make? As if asking the gasbag would make it forget anything it'd taken from my mind. "Um... yeah. I think..." I swallowed; what I intended to say had seemed so right and sensible when Holst and I discussed it that night, but here and now, I couldn't help but think it was crazy. "I... think..." Spit it out, man! "You created us. You, Nacalites. Did your stuff. Primate. Just add sentience. Do it yourself kit..."
The gasbags floated there, silent and unmoving, as I babbled on. After my words sputtered down to nothing, *? asked, "Your theory is interesting. Upon what evidence is it based?"
Deep breath. Calm down, fool. "Evidence." Another deep breath. "Okay. I don't really have any evidence, as such; just, some facts and guesses that seem to hang together pretty damned well." I started ticking off points on my fingers. "First, I've been studying you guys for a while now" -- something passed between the gasbags, inhumanly fast, when I spoke these words -- "and as far as I can tell, you think a lot like us humans. A whole lot like us. Amazingly like us, considering how little our two species have in common. That's astronomically unlikely if gasbags and humans were completely independent of each other, but only to be expected if, say, you created us.
"Second, up until the HEA, you guys never communicated with humans. As in, 6,000 years' worth of never. And all that time, you always went way the hell out of your way to ensure that we'd never notice your actions. What, you gasbags figured contact with two other sentient species was enough? No point in talking to a third? Yeah, right. But if we were some kind of experiment, if you'd granted us sentience in the first place, that would just mean you were being careful not to contaminate the results of your experiment, right?" Assuming they've told us the truth, I couldn't help but think to myself. Granted, I thought the gasbags were pathological truth-tellers, but what if I'd gotten them wrong?
"And third... You gasbags are so damned arrogant; you think God himself commissioned you to fix all the mistakes of Nature. But there aren't enough of you to play caretaker on every planet in the entire Universe, are there? I'll bet there's not enough of you to make game wardens for a small fraction of this Galaxy, not even when you add in those two other sentient races of yours. So three intelligent lifeforms wasn't enough... and that's why you decided to make your own: homo sapiens."
Another fast exchange (or whatever it was) between the gasbags. What were they thinking, doing?
"We were the prototype, weren't we? The first attempt. Since a caretaker species is what you were aiming for, you wanted a critter with an inborn affinity for long-term, 'big picture' thinking. Something with a major built-in attention span, whose 'time horizon' covered more than the next 15 minutes. That's why you chose a cursorial hunter. A predator that chases after its prey for hours on end, until the prey drops from exhaustion. Something that was halfway to the kind of thinking you wanted, even before you gave it sentience. What was it, Neanderthal man? Homo habilis? One of those guys, I don't know. So you plucked your magic twangers, and alikazam! It's homo sapiens time."
An awkward pause followed -- well, it was awkward for me, anyway. As for the gasbags, I felt sure that whatever was going on inside them, it would be something I could understand. Too bad I wasn't familiar with the body language they were using now -- no clue to their inner selves. Then *? asked me about my profession, and the next... god, it was a half-hour... was nothing but wall-to-wall artistic exposition...
After the gasbags left... I went to my workshop. Absently picked up a fist-sized chunk of wax, shaved random slices off of it. No real plan or subject in mind, just something to do with my hands while my brain was preoccupied. Thinking back... they hadn't agreed, hadn't disagreed, hadn't offered much of any kind of reaction. Was it really anything more than a plausible idea? Could the gasbags really have jumpstarted human sentience? If so, what would they do to keep a lid on that secret? If not, would they regard my theory as a major hunk of bad publicity that needed to be stomped, preferably right at the source, i.e. me? Would they think I'd gone mad, and if so, what might they do to... cure me? I asked myself a lot of questions, and I didn't care for a lot of the possible answers...
I slept poorly that night.
I threw myself into my work, big time, for the seven days following. Didn't want to think about my immediate future. Not that my long-term future was much more enticing, mind you.
"You're going to what?" I asked, a lot more shocked than actually surprised. *? was
back on schedule; it was our next regular meeting, same Bat-time,
same Bat-channel, except that ^# was with him. It. Anyway, there
were two gasbags on my property, and one had just read me my death
sentence -- forfeiture. "No, don't tell me again, I heard you
the first time. Shit... right now, huh?"
Rose-and-gold sympathy from *?: "It must begin today, yes. If it was a matter of your theory alone, I believe I could have positively influenced the judgement; but there was also your continuing purpose."
"Your purpose" -- so ^# did get a little something extra from me, I realized. But -- "Wait a second, you said 'it must begin today'? Does that mean you're not gonna end it just yet?"
"Contrary to popular belief, our regulations do not explicitly mandate any specific period of time to impose a judgement of forfeiture," *? replied. "What is mandated, is that forfeiture occur with all practicable speed. As I have stated earlier, the responsibility for performing your metamorphoses is mine; I have chosen to perform them in a sequence, and at a tempo, which will not unduly impinge upon my study of you."
I blinked as I parsed that sentence. Damn my traitorous emotions -- I couldn't stop myself feeling a surge of joy when I realized *? was giving me a stay of execution, even if it was only a temporary one. Damn me for being relieved that the alien who would remake me into an animal, just wasn't going to do it today. And as ever, damn the gasbags for what they were inflicting on my species in the first place. I couldn't afford to feel indebted to any gasbag, I had to stomp on any positive sentiment that I might otherwise feel for the ET sons of bitches. Fortunately for me, their actions made that stomping easy...
"You are not pleased? I would have thought that such exploitation of rules and regulations, particularly for the purpose in question, would be a thing you approve of."
Except I can't allow myself to. "Hip, hip, hooray," I stated flatly. "Instead of dying at dawn, I'm going to be killed next month. You have worked such an incredible change in my fate. Imagine my gratitude."
"I... see." I think *? was embarrassed. For that matter, so was I -- there he goes bending the rules to give you more time, and you spit in his face? Idiot! -- but what I'd just done was done. Unfortunately. After a short, tense pause, *? went on: "This session will again involve mental fusion. It would be best for you to be --"
"-- seated in a comfortable chair," I said, finishing *?'s sentence in unison with him. "Got it. 'Round in back, just like last time."
As before, they followed me to the gazebo.
My second mental fusion went down as easily as the first. Or maybe easier, now that I had an idea of what it was about. But this time, I opened my eyes to different scenery: Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory. In glorious black and white, yet. And I was strapped to an operating table, while the Doctor himself (played by ^#, I could somehow tell) and the hunchback Igor (had to be *?) busied themselves with various bits of arcane pseudo-scientific equipment.
Personal symbology, huh? I thought to myself. Okay, then the straps aren't real, and I should be able to get up... Damn! I couldn't move. "Hey, people -- can I get some help over here?"
Igor (*?) looked up at me. "Excuse me?"
"I'm stuck here. I can't move."
Igor looked at the Doctor, and vice versa. I could almost hear them chattering to each other. The Doc said, "You misinterpret a thing that was implemented for our mutual protection. I have emplaced barriers around your mind, that you cannot forcibly acquire any information from us."
I gave them a quirky smile. "Yeah, right -- like that's going to happen. This is only my second time here, remember?"
^# didn't smile. "You possess a high degree of unskilled native talent. You could do it. And since you lack training, it is highly probable that you would damage the mind you extract information from. The barriers will prevent that from happening."
I can do that? Since when? "And I suppose I might also burn my own brain, too?"
"Yes. Self-inflicted damage is not unheard-of among novices. In most cases, the damage is not irreparably great."
I pondered. Alright... call it the moral equivalent of a padded cell, I guess. Not to imprison me, but to protect me and others. And suddenly, I wasn't strapped down; I was still lying on the table, which was now surrounded by a giant glass box. "Great. I think I'm getting the hang of this 'personal symbology' deal."
"You are." The Doctor again, still not smiling. Didn't he have any sense of humor?
"Thanks, Doc," I replied with a smile, sitting up with my legs hanging off the side of the table. "So. Where do we go from here? What's on the agenda?"
*? spoke. "We shall begin with your first stage. Have you selected your final form?"
Oh, joy. That killed my mood. I looked into *?/Igor's eyes, searching for any clue that would tell me whether he'd already known, whether or not the question was more than a polite formality. No such luck. Then again, given ^#'s barriers, it was stupid of me to think I might actually have a chance to find anything. I sighed.
"Yes... I have. Wolverine."
Igor nodded. "Thank you, Andrew. Please, lie down and compose yourself. There is no need for any more discomfort than that unavoidable minimum which is intrinsic to the first stage."
You were right, Holst. They want their genocide to run nice and smooth, like a goddamned Swiss clock. I obeyed, what choice did I have? Even closed my eyes, for good measure.
I didn't feel it happening. For all my intellectual awareness that my body was being remodeled, maybe down to the level of my DNA, I can't say that I noticed any physical sensations much out of the ordinary while the dirty deed was being done. Mind you, mental sensations were another matter entirely -- it started with the "mental fusion" feeling, and went on to many others I'd never imagined I could percieve. I don't know, maybe the fusion is why I didn't feel it happen. It was all pretty wierd, but this time, I kept it together; this time, the fusion didn't break.
When it felt like they'd finished, I gave myself a once-over, and was surprised to find no changes in my form. Huh? What gives?
The gasbags had been eavesdropping on my private thoughts. Of course. *? gave me the answer: "We altered your body, not your mind. Until your self-image changes, this is how you will percieve yourself in mental fusion."
Oh. Obvious, in hindsight. "Gotcha. Since that's over and done with, now what?"
"A question, if I may." As if I had any choice but to answer him. *? went on, "You have set yourself the task of visiting ruin upon us Nacalites. In your eyes, is this a goal you have a non-trivial chance of achieving, or is it, instead, merely wishful thinking?"
The gasbag might as well have slammed a baseball bat into my gut. I felt a supercooled ice cube worming its way down my spine. "I'm not sure what you mean," I said, my voice slow and unsteady. Oh sure, they'll buy that. It's not like they can read your mind or anything, right?
The bastards didn't even pretend they were interested in my response. They just chatted between themselves, damn it. Finally the Doctor, played by ^#, began, "I am unsure of the methods you intended to employ in achieving your goal. Was it your belief that --"
"What gave it away?" I interrupted, my voice sounding dead even to my own ears.
"Basic principles of psychistry," *? responded. "It was obvious that normally, you would never have even proposed, let alone assented to, any form of long-term association with a Nacalite -- not without an eventual payoff of great value. And your anger towards us was intense enough that any payoff you valued would necessarily involve destruction. The only question was whether you wished the destruction to be limited to just those Nacalites on Earth, or all Nacalites throughout the Universe. Had you believed we would remain unaware of this goal indefinitely?"
So... *? had known. He'd always known. I felt like a skydiver with a shredded parachute; my spirits didn't just fall, they plummeted. And I'd actually believed I understood the gasbags well enough to be able to manipulate them -- hah! What a joke. I slumped against one wall of the glass box that surrounded me, or at least it sure felt like that, and I ignored the world for a while...
"Huh?" I looked around, blinking. While I was lost in my funk, the mental fusion went away -- I was back in the real world. And one of the gasbags had asked me something..? "What was that?"
*? spoke: "As I said, I would like to know when you have recovered your equilibrium sufficiently to re-establish mental fusion. Having already collected data on the emotional intensities you were capable of as a pure human, I now desire to accumulate the analogous data for you now that you are a first stage transformee. In particular, I would like to probe your upper limit of intensity for anger and certain other emotions."
I stared at *?. I'd thought I was too numb to feel shocked. I was wrong. "Let me see if I've got this straight," I said carefully. "You want me to get angry. You want me to try for the most intense rage I'm physically capable of. Because you want to see how close I can get to some theoretical upper limit."
"Correct on all counts. I must warn you, however, that theory indicates --"
"-- Like I care what the theory says," I interrupted. *? shut up. He was probably going to make some noise about harmful biological effects, possibility of dying, blah blah blah, nothing new there. "Alright. I'll do it. Just one thing: Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it."
The gasbags busied themselves with preparations that I ignored. Except for re-establishment of the mental link and ^#'s protective barriers, that is, since I couldn't not notice those. I had my own prep work, all of it variations on the theme "stoking the psychic furnace". You can work yourself up to a towering rage, and you can even control how long it takes to hit the peak. Or at least I can do it, but then I've had decades of practice. So don't try this at home, kiddies! *? wanted to see just how intense my anger can be? I'd be happy to oblige, and if the gasbags got burned, even a little bit, I'd be satisfied.
It wasn't long before everyone's preparations were over. Showtime. This one's for all the money, Andy-boy.
I felt something in my mind, yet another fusion variant, a peculiar sensation not unlike the turning of a key in a lock. That's when I opened the floodgates, unleashing every last iota of repressed emotional force I could coax from my psyche. And so *? knew, to the exacting precision it brought to all its investigations, the absolute magnitude of my fury; it saw its kind as I, in my innermost heart, saw them. From the UV-hot crucible of my mind poured a cascade of images, feelings, psychodrama vignettes, all of them intricately linked and synchronized into one sharp-edged whole, an impossibly intense patchwork quilt whose pieces were different aspects of unadulterated, isotopically-pure rage...
Die, *?, die!
Vent high-temperature plasma into the volume of *?'s nebular body. Die hot!
Freeze *? solid, liquid-helium-cold, and drive a steamroller over the Nacalite-cube. Die cold!
Trap *? inside an impermeable container until it smothers in its own waste products. Die easy!
Transfer *?'s consciousness into the body of a broken deer, trapped at the bottom of a crevass, unable to move itself and unreachable by any outside agency that might deliver the merciful final stroke. Die in pain!
A multi-megawatt lightning bolt passing through the exact center of *?, immediately followed by several more in quick succession. Die fast!
Dissociate *?'s gaseous substance into its component atoms, one molecule at a time, over a period of weeks. Die slow!
Dissolve *? in a tanker of peroxide, shake well, then pour it down a sewer. Die alone, alien!
Carpet-bomb the Nacalite homeworld with nuclear warheads until Terra runs dry. Die en masse!
DIE, you sanctimonious bastards! Suffer and
I must be alive; dead wouldn't hurt this much...
My Nacalite buddies were inert when I woke up, aside from an occasional semi-random ripple in their substance. As for me, I had a headache that rated 7.9 on the Richter Scale, and my whole body felt like it'd been assembled from ill-matched parts by the lowest bidder. *? had been right, there was an ultimate upper limit to emotional intensity, and getting too near that limit had real physical consequences.
^# had been the weak link; overconfident in its mastery of psionics, it underestimated how strong a shield it would need to protect itself and *? from my rage. The gasbags' own damn fault, of course, for adding a dash of wolverine blood to a human whose emotions started out dangerously intense to begin with. So the shield just wasn't strong enough, and when it cracked... ^#'s mind must have evaporated instantly, burned away like dry ice under a blowtorch, and *? got caught in the blast radius of a psionic firestorm that burned hotter than the Sun's core.
I discovered that the mind-link was still active, how or why I couldn't say, and whatever had just happened, NONE of ^#'s barriers had survived it. How long -- never mind that, just get to work before Lady Luck quits smiling!
The fusion had a smoking crater where ^# ought to have been. As for *?, I examined its mind like the Visigoths examined Rome. I couldn't help but be aware of the psychic damage I was doing to *?'s mind as I ransacked his memories. "Aware", yes, but I didn't give a tinker's damn. It was a pleasant emotional undercurrent as I focused on more useful things. Like sucking in every bit of information *? knew about gasbag science, technology, and engineering.
I really shouldn't have been surprised at how little time it took for me to acquire the totality of *?'s memories. Although the absolute quantity of data was quite large, there was no physical process getting in the way; it was purely mental, direct mind-to-mind transfer. And as such, the only relevant limiting factors were the intelligence levels of the minds involved.
*?'s work was pretty interesting, especially on a personal level -- *? did a lot of things to manipulate my mind and emotions for his studies; Holst had been more right than he knew -- but it was a distraction I put aside for later. I had work to do and more important things to think about, such as telekinesis on a sub-molecular scale. This just happened to be the trick which allowed Nacalites to remodel living creatures with a stray thought... and *? knew how to do it, which meant that I could now do it, too.
Just for practice, I tried it out on a pebble, exploiting the memories I'd imported from *? for the training and experience I needed to make it work. I wasted a precious few seconds shifting the pebble from stone to diamond to aluminum to cherrywood, and then to glowing neon gas, holding the energized atoms in place by a simple act of will.
Finally, the atoms of the former pebble dispersed in all directions as I focused my attention on the question of what the heck do I do now? According to the knowledge I'd forcibly extracted from my alien friend, I had little time to decide. The Nacalites here would remain insensible until they got medical treatment, but others of their kind would quickly investigate the massive eruption of lethal emotion that'd taken them down. And -- no time left, damnit! I sensed the approach of several Nacalites, moving in a conventional fashion rather than risk teleporting into a deadly empathic mindstorm. Seconds to decide and act, maybe a minute or so if I were lucky... I made my choice.
I snatched *?'s body, transferring into it my mind, my persona, everything that made Andrew Aikens Tesla a unique entity unto himself. This left my body untenanted; I burned off whatever residual memories yet remained in that form, ensuring that no Nacalite would be able to use that information to reconstruct what I'd just done. *? did not oppose me. His mind was shattered, totally incoherent, and I would ensure that it remained so indefinitely, even as "he" resumed "his" place in Nacalite society. I didn't shuffle *?'s mind into my former body, and wouldn't have done so even if I'd had the time. Let's just say that keeping *? around would make it a lot easier for me to take over his life. With total access to his memories and personality engrams, I had a fighting chance to pull off a flawless impersonation -- and any mistakes I made would be ascribed to lingering after-effects of the horrific psychic misadventure *? had suffered this day, especially after I laid the proper groundwork for that misconception. And all the while, I would be doing everything I could, first, to restore the human species, and second, to give the Nacalites a good-sized megadose of the medicine they'd been so eager to force on us.
Time's up -- they're here now, just starting their examination of the wreckage of what they will never realize was *?'s final experiment. Whatever comes next, I swear that all you stinking, genocidal hypocrites are toast, I promised myself. You Nacalites could have taught us; instead, you kept us in ignorance. You could have helped humans build a culture in harmony with Nature; instead, you're wiping human civilization off the face of the planet. If you never knew that actions have consequences, you're damn well going to learn it now -- by your actions, your species has forged your own doom.
Beware the killer ape, you goddamn sons of bitches! Beware Man!
end part 2