A Short Story by Scot Lahaie
Colonel Williams had served as commander for the moon colony on Oceana for fifteen years. Every spring a supply ship arrived from earth bringing much-needed supplies and a bevy of new personnel—soldiers, scientists, and technicians. And though most of the men and women working at the colony were human, there was always an interesting smattering of alien scientists in the group: Boleans, Martians, Pandorians, Mussatians, Forlings. The array of skin colors, the scales and antennae, the multi-eyed and double-headed; Colonel Williams thought he had seen it all. But this year’s crop of new recruits brought an Atlantian by the name of Piapong Sumetikong. And despite his best effort and years of experience with alien cultures, the Colonel was unprepared for his first encounter with the Atlantian.
The supply ship pulled alongside the landing bay. The doors opened and a stream of bodies and equipment poured down the gangway. After half an hour of greetings and salutes and introductions, a single figure appeared at the top of the gangway. The Colonel looked up to behold the new alien species.
“Ah. The Atlantian,” he thought.
The alien cleared the opening of the ship’s narrow hatch and stood to his full height—almost eight feet tall. His slender figure made him look taller than he actually was. He legs were longer than his torso, so he covered much ground in just a few strides. His pale complexion accentuated his yellow eyes which seemed to glow and bulge in the morning light. But what really set the young scientist off from other aliens the Colonel had encountered was the shape of his head—the distinct ellipse of an egg. He had no hair, no eyebrows, and no facial hair, just two eyes, a small slit for a mouth, and a small crease for a nose. He was a walking, talking breakfast egg.
In just five strides the young scientist reached the bottom of the gangway and stood before the colonel.
“Reporting for assignment, sir,” said the scientist, extending his hand in greeting.
Williams struggled to respond, still processing the image of the tall and lanky researcher. Delayed by his momentary embarrassment, the Colonel extended his hand in friendly greeting as well. The two shook hands as the Colonel found his tongue.
“Ah, yes. Of course. Good to have you here,” stammered the Colonel.
“My name is Piapong Sumetikong, but you can call me Egg.”
Williams’ mouth dropped open and his eyes grew wide.
“Excuse me?”—unsure if he had heard him correctly.
“Most humanoids from your planet have difficulty with my Atlantian name, so I offer them my nickname,” he answered with a courteous tone.
The Colonel found himself in conflict. Duty and professionalism demanded he treat the new scientist with respect and courtesy, but the idea of calling the young alien “Egg” summoned up a mad laughter that he could not fully control. He swallowed hard.
“Is that what they called you back at the academy? School boy pranks can be so cruel,” he offered.
“Oh, no, sir. That is my Atlantian nickname. In our own language it means ‘brave one,’ but it is a very old form of the language.”
This caused the Colonel to snicker, which he immediately stifled.
“Let me get this straight. Your Atlantian nickname is Egg. And it means ‘brave one.’”
The corners of his mouth turned up for just a moment before he was able to wrestle them down again trying his best not to offend his new scientist.
“That is correct.”
“Very well, then… Egg. Welcome to the research colony at Oceana. We’ll talk more once you’ve settled in. That’s all for now. Join the Lieutenant there at the airlock to the ‘nest.’ She’ll show you to your quarters.”
His breath was shallow as he fought to control the laughter that swirled within him.
“The ‘nest,’ sir?” he inquired.
“Oh, sorry. The compound where we find our living quarters. We call it the ‘nest,’” replied the Colonel.
“I see. A lovely name. A nest is a place of safety in which birds hatch their young. I look forward to finding my place in the ‘nest.’ Thank you, sir.”
The Atlantian turned to go, and was gone from view in just a few strides. The Colonel then snickered—a small, low laugh. Then another. Tears filled his eyes as an uncontrollable laughter overtook him. He was grateful he was alone.
* * *
Three weeks had passed since the supply ship delivered its store of goods and roster of new recruits. Colonel Williams had spent most of that time avoiding contact with the majority of his new crew. He had encountered Egg on two occasions the first week; on both encounters he found himself in a losing battle with the ridiculous need to laugh, snicker, and giggle. A snort even found its way out through his nasal passages just when he thought he might be gaining his composure. It was then he decided it was best to just avoid contact with the new alien altogether, a decision that made his job as commander more difficult. So much so that he was contemplating a visit to the base physician to see if there could be another explanation for the uncontrollable giggles he experienced when speaking with the Atlantian. He had also noticed that the morale of the colony was surprisingly upbeat—dare he say joyous—since the arrival of the new recruits.
* * *
Another week had passed. The Colonel was hiding in his office as usual when the alarms began to sound. The alarm system was seldom used, and was installed primarily as an early warning system for acid rain, meteor showers, or other atmospheric disturbances. It had been used twice for missing personnel. Williams headed out the door to consult with his aide-de-camp.
“Jones! What’ve we got?” barked the Colonel.
“It’s the new alien, sir,” she said with a military edge.
“What about him?”
“He’s dead, sir.”
“Dead?” Williams said, expecting anything but this. “Where’d they find him?
“Just beyond the rim, near the water supply,” Jones reported.
“What do we know so far?”
“I’ll leave the final determination to you, sir, but it appears to be foul play.”
“What do you mean, ‘foul play’? This is Oceana. We run a scientific research facility. In the fifteen years of my command we have never had a single incident of criminal behavior or violent intent. And you’re telling me we suddenly have a murder on our hands?”
“Yes, sir,” Jones replied. “His head was cracked open like an—” She knew she shouldn’t say it.
“Like an egg?”
“Yes, sir. Like an egg.”
This wasn’t at all funny. The Colonel knew that. Jones knew that. Despite what they knew, Williams found himself once again wrestling with a snicker. He returned to his office, holstered a seldom-seen side arm, and returned.
“Is everything alright, sir?”
“Yes, Lieutenant, everything is just fine. I’m just a little concerned about morale. I don’t want the research team running around thinking there’s a killer out there waiting for them.”
“No, sir. We don’t want that,” Jones replied. “I guess we need to tread lightly. A bit like walking on egg shells.”
The Colonel snorted. Embarrassed, he reprimanded Jones for her impertinence.
“We’ve gotta handle this right, Jones. We don’t want to be the cause of an interplanetary incident. We don’t want—” He stopped mid-sentence.
“What?” replied Jones. “Egg on our face?”
Again with the snort. And then a chuckle. Jones joined him in a red-faced response to the absurdness of their situation. The Colonel was angry at himself, but was also at a loss for the malady that was attacking his funny bone. He could not explain it, but he found the whole notion of the young researcher laid out on the ground quite funny, his yellow brains spilling out of his cracked head like the yolk of an egg.
“Jones! I hereby order you to show more respect to the victim. He was, after all, a respected member of our expedition. I understand that he was an ‘egg-cellent’ researcher.”
The young lieutenant found her funny bone assaulted as well.
“Yes, sir. Egg-ceptional, I am sure.”
“Enough of that now!” Williams retorted. “We cannot tolerate such impudence.”
“No sir. We cannot. No egg-ceptions allowed.”
The two gave in to an uncontrollable laughter, tears filling their yellowing eyes.
“Let’s see the crime scene,” said Williams, his teeth clenched and his face red. “Move out! Now!”
They stumbled out the office door into the hallway only to discover a half-dozen colonists bent from fits of laughter. The Colonel smiled at the sight, but his eyes narrowed and his brow knitted. The thought that had occurred to him earlier in the week returned. Could the laughing malady be more than just happenstance?
“Jones! We need to find the doctor, and quickly,” he snorted. “Where is he?”
“He is probably at the crime scene, sir.”
“Very well then! Let’s get going.”
They moved along the hallway heading to the checkpoint that led to the outer rim of the encampment. All movement to the outer encampment was monitored at the checkpoint. Along the hallways they encountered more laughing and cackling and mocking. A group of technicians—gathered at the water purifier—warbled an old children’s rhyme:
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again!” sang the crew.
Another duet sang with drunken abandon of “eggstra-terrestrials tall and lean.”
The women in the group pulled wildly at their own hair, yanking handfuls of hair from their scalps. Others stumbled to the floor holding their heads, complaining of pressure behind the eyes, and moaning in pain. And everywhere he turned, the Colonel saw the eyes of his crew turning distinct shades of yellow.
“The doctor?!” Williams yells out to the crew in the hallway. “Has anyone seen the doctor?”
No answer. Just a frightful blend of laughter and pain in response. Williams picked up the pace. And despite the laughter that contorted his face, on the inside he was no longer laughing. Jones stumbled along behind him.
They passed through the checkpoint and ventured out towards the ridge. They reached the ridge in less than three minutes, passing researchers and technicians along the way, each suffering the same malady of laughter and pain as their counterparts inside. They reached the prone body of the Atlantian, stopping in terror at the sight of his egg-shaped head split down the middle with a yellow brain leaking out in a fluid of clear goo. And then they broke into cackles and screams of laughter.
Williams and Jones both had difficulty catching their breath, so severe were their fits. Leaving Jones behind, the Colonel stumbled off again to the nest.
“Doctor!” he screamed out again and again. “Where are you!”
Once inside, the Colonel found his crew on the floor. All of them. What he saw next made him wonder if his eyes deceived him. The men and women of his crew held their heads, writhing in pain, but the shape of their heads seemed to be in flux. Undulating like gelatin or soft fruit. The screaming had given way to low moans and states of unconsciousness. He stumbled down the hallways to the infirmary, hoping the doctor was in.
The infirmary was filled with a dozen or more bodies. Lifeless bodies. Headless bodies. The walls were covered with a spray of grey matter.
“Come in, Colonel. I’ve been expecting you,” spoke a calm voice from the next room.
With trepidation in his heart, and laughter on his face, and a growing pain and pressure behind his forehead, Williams stepped forward to see who spoke to him with such calm. The doctor’s familiar form stood before him, recognizable in shape and size, but on the shoulders of the body was an egg-shaped head.
“Doctor?” he grunted.
“No, Colonel. It’s me. Egg.”
“That’s not possible… where is the doctor?”
“He is gone… no more to be seen.”
“No! I saw you outside… on the ground… dead.”
“Ah, that is true. The body I traveled with previously is no more,” he confessed. “But this is my body now. And its previous inhabitant is now gone.”
“What are you doing to us?” Williams demanded.
“I am giving birth, of course. Isn’t it obvious?”
Williams’ instinct for flight kicked in. He turned to run, but found his way blocked by a dozen of his new recruits. Just moments ago they were lifeless bodies missing their heads. Now they stood erect, each donning a shiny new head shaped like an egg. The pain in his own head grew stronger, the pressure reaching unbearable levels.
“What have you done to us?!” Williams demanded.
“To you? Oh no, Colonel. I am not concerned with you, but with them. These are my children. Once each solar century we Atlantians venture forth into the galaxy to lay our eggs. It is a time of joy… and laughter. The joy you have experienced in recent weeks is the work of Atlantian pheromones, which accompany the spores I released into the air you breathe. You received the spores with gladness and incubated my young, nourishing them with your laughter. And then, when the time is right, they hatch inside their hosts and give new expression to the life that has hatched them, which is what you see before you. They are grateful—as am I. For I also receive new birth through the incubation process. I live eternally through the many hosts I occupy.”
“You cannot do this!” groaned the Colonel.
“I already have. You are the last of the crew. Only you remain. When the process is complete in you, we will depart and return home once again.”
The Colonel reached for his pistol, firmly grasping the handle. Through the pain of transformation, he lifted the pistol to his own head, his finger on the trigger.
“You’ll not have me.”
“Oh, Colonel Williams. Please,” patronized the alien. “Don’t be such a child. What good would that possibly do?”
Agreeing with his logic, Williams turned the weapon on the Atlantian and squeezed the trigger. The bullet shattered his new head, scattering yellow brain matter on the wall behind him. The doctor’s body fell lifelessly to the floor. And in the room behind him the egg-headed bodies fell as well, their heads imploding in upon themselves.
All across the colony, the transformed members of the expedition fell as the nurturing link between the mother and her children was severed. Unbeknownst to the Colonel, the Atlantian transformation is complete only when the very last child finds form in its host.
The Colonel fell to the floor. He lay semi-conscious in a sea of blood, sweat and grey matter. He slipped into sleep. He will awake again. But not today.