By T.J. Hardman, Jr.
In the morning, he woke with a terrible headache. He tried
to remember what he'd been doing the night before, and could not. He guessed
that maybe he had started drinking too much, and had finally had his first
blackout. He took a couple of aspirin and headed to the mall to pick up a
milkshake and he was sitting there sipping it, when he looked up and noticed
Todd standing there staring at him.
"Hey, John. How ya doing?" Todd seemed rather reserved this
morning. That was okay; John couldn't have handled his ordinarily effusive
manner right now. Even the sound of his voice was making his head pound.
"Maaaan... I have got the worst headache you could
"I'll bet." Todd was giving him an odd eye. "What was it
"What was what like? Oh. Last night. I dunno, I can't
remember a thing. You don't happen to know where I was, do you? Or what I did?
I must have been trashed."
"Yeah," said Todd. "I guess you were. Trashed. Shitcanned. I
"So, what ya wanna do? I gotta shake off this headache."
"C'mon," said Todd. "Let's wander."
They wandered. John occasionally thought that Todd might be
giving him odd looks, as if estimating him, but he decided it was part of his
hangover, and indeed, as the day wore on he saw it less and less. His headache
almost went away.
We watched them as it happened to them, and whatever it was
that happened behind secret and well-closed doors, whatever it was that took
them and changed them, we never saw it. We only saw what had become of them.
When did it start? Sometime before I was born, but it never really got bad
until the middle of the nineteen-nineties. By then it was obvious, open warfare
by one side, and the other side refusing to believe it could happen. This was
the mindset in America, at any rate. I cannot say what happened elsewhere,
though from the actions of foreigners much might be inferred.
We're pretty sure that it started somewhere else, maybe in
Mexico, certainly in remote parts of Asia, and we know that it happened
somewhere in the lost vastness of the Rockies. We can't go there anymore but so
many of them came from there, we felt it inarguable that this was a major
origin of that which came to so change our fellows.
All that we can assume is that aliens landed. This is purely
assumption; evidence is conspicuously absent, as if the immediate targets of a
tactical and strategic operation were acquisition and compromise of our various
planetary intelligence, reporting, communications command and control
The change was far afoot by the time that even the most
paranoid of us within the general population noticed it. (We presently assume
that all professionals were, through interpenetration of their control systems,
almost immediately turned, compromised and eliminated, or simply terminated
with ultimate prejudice.) It was simply unbelievable. People came to work one
day, and they were Changed, or returned from vacations Changed, or after long
absences family members would return. Changed. Capital-C Changed. And when one
noticed that one usually noticed also that these changes had been there for
some time. The shock of realizing that one has been viewing an anomaly for a
long time without noticing. Something pervasive...something that was everywhere
and rapidly expanding.
It hasn't gone as far as one might think. The Changed ones
were perhaps one tenth of the population in most areas, and as far as we could
tell others weren't being changed in those areas. Most of the people seen
newly-changed in most places were those recently returned from the
The Enclaves were, simply stated, those places from which
persons did not return unChanged. If someone went there, they came back
different somehow, with about the memories you'd expect when someone had gone
on vacation. Unfortunately, when we had first become suspicious and had
organized we had sent several people in for reconnaissance, and they returned
with about the memories you'd expect from someone just returned from vacation
even after we had photo surveillance tapes of their captures.
Then the foreigners, all desperate, all traveling light, all
with the shell-shocked look of the refugee passed rapidly through all of our
cities, pausing to look around them, shuddering and moving on, and after them
came more of the Changed.
Then people started coming back from college Changed. From
certain colleges (the world's largest university, the University of Maryland,
was particularly conspicuous) they came back Changed. From hospitals
(especially those staffed by graduates of the University of Maryland, and
looking back, even more particularly hospitals staffed by those who had
graduated from Georgetown University in the late Sixties [which put a time
frame on the initial incursions])- they came back Changed. They came out of
jail Changed. They came out of the Army Changed, and all of our hopes for
successful resistance disappeared as soon as the military was universally
We were suddenly homeless in our own land, those of use who
escaped, and many, perhaps most of us, very nearly died. In becoming invisible
animals in urban wildernesses, we all fell behind the occupation lines as they
We knew we were in the secured zones because while the
Changed still came, those who changed them came after them... and we fled, our
organization broken and scattered, each fearing capture, fearing that we might
be under scrutiny and unable to seek others out. Some of us did make it to the
limits of the true occupation and beyond, into the merely infiltrated zones.
Some of us went further, into the rapidly vanishing uninvolved zones. They are
now lost to us as those borders have been secured beyond penetration. We have
no idea what happens in those last zones. Indeed, so small were those last
zones of ultimate refuge that we can only presume that they were destroyed
mercilessly as the foci of resistance.
What did come behind those who had been changed? Those who
changed them. And what were they? Certainly nothing of this earth. Yet our
radars and our telescopes saw nothing (or what they saw was, as a result of the
initial compromise of the C3I structures, suppressed) and so we can only assume
that they traveled to this earth from another star, though had they this power,
they should have been able to force a capitulation, and occupy us directly.
Perhaps they came from another universe, a parallel place. There is some
apocryphal support for this idea, as the mountains near Denver had long been
rumored to have gateways to other realms, rumors also redounding to many other
mountain fastnesses, rumors common to many cultures. Certainly, the region's
native-Americans had tales which as much as said that there were places not in
this world which could be reached through places not only in this world, but
They, Them, the overlords, the invaders, They shambled
slowly behind those who They had Changed. Their property revered them as gods,
this much was evident. They oozed down streets like the snails which must have
been their ancestors in their own world. They had some sort of metallic
artificial endoskeleton to support their viscid flesh, but they flowed upon a
single mollusc belly-foot, or rested sessile upon air-cushion-vehicle
platforms. Their eyestalks flinched and twined, and their handling tentacles
which ringed their faces constantly manipulated devices which we assumed to be
communications-and-control consoles. Their world must have been much like our
own, for they ate earthly food. In fact, they ate earthers. One which I saw
manipulated the console it had hung about its... neck (on a Man, whose shape
was so grossly mocked by the shape of the endoskeleton upon which the Master's
slimy flesh was loosely hung, this would have been seen as the bloated and
twisted neck of an obvious Ogre) and the closest person, a young man, quietly
walked over and lay down in the street before The Being, and it oozed over him
and enveloped him in its mottled flesh. And when it moved on, there was only a
half-digested soupy mess peddled around the fuming remnants of polyester and
cotton clothing. The people who were gathered around worshipping their new
deity did not change expressions at all, in fact, most seemed so rapt in
adoration that perhaps they had never noticed...except for one.
This one was following the being, at the edge of the crowd,
and as the people at the edge of the crowd jostled to get closer to the
blissful center, he was knocked into the edge of a speed-limit sign which was
poorly mounted on a pole festooned with route signs. He took quite a hit, but
at first seemed to not notice the blood flowing from a deep scalp cut. But as I
watched, he seemed to be waking, waking as if from a dream, tentatively
touching the wound, and exploring the edges of the laceration, and he seemed to
find something within the wound, and he pulled. Suddenly, a shocked expression
passed across his face, and he pulled again. As I drew closer, I saw him seem
to wrap something around his finger, like a piece of wire, perhaps, and then he
yanked hard, and fell over, stone dead. The stragglers, arriving late to
worship, passed him by without remark and I was able to approach him. I
unwrapped the wire (actually, it seemed to be a bundle of something like
optical fiber, some fine steely wire, and little lumps of some solid substance
like pieces of insulation or perhaps microcircuitry) from his finger and I
shuddered as I wiped and coiled it and stuck it in the coin pocket of my
The Changed paid me no attention whatsoever as I followed them on
their way. Whither they led, quiet but jubilant, each pressing to get closer to
the focus of their worship, I followed. When I saw that they were approaching
the hospital, I began to hang back towards the edge of the crowd, for I saw
that while the crowd of the jubilant were pressed in adoration against the
fence which restrained them from joining the smaller, more active crowd which
bustled in the parking lot on the east side, the crowd in the higher razorwired
enclosure universally drew away from the creatures which directed their ex-
fellows to seize them.
A prison bus entered the parking lot and shackled men were
led forth into the hospital. I watched for hours as they emerged, one at a
time, with faces suffused with rapture, from another door to join the crowd.
Occasionally, a group of happy slaves would drag someone from the holding pen
and escort them, screaming and struggling, into the hospital. Later, they would
emerge, their heads shaved in strips and swaths, wearing a smile of beatific
bliss... which quickly changed to a more normal expression which better
characterized the deepest of levels of inhumanly motivated determination.
I had seen enough. I went back into town, and took a shaver
and cut my hair oddly, plastered a smile over my expression of creeping horror,
and stole a car, and drove it east. Nobody tried to stop me. I guess that I
might have looked satisfactorily-enough possessed but the demons which
drove me were demons, or perhaps angels, of this earth. The stores were
abandoned, and I shopped frantically. As I passed the hospital, they were
starting to take down the fence. The crowd was gone, and one of the aliens was
supervising the loading of a combination trailer. I paused and took some photos
with a camera I had picked up, a nice 35mm with a telephoto lens, and then I
drove east out of Colorado, driving at a nice safe seventy miles per hour, and
then began to take back roads down to Texas.
When outside of the direct influence of the aliens, which is
presumed to have been largely through direct electrical stimulation of the
brain administered through some sort of radio-controlled electrode-harness,
Those Changed seemed to be normal people to all intents and purposes, other
than having artificial memories, all of which were exactly the same, if
somewhat hazily-generic memories. The memories were of nice stays in a few nice
hotels along Colfax Avenue in Aurora, Colorado (actually a generic ex-suburban
Hell-on-Earth), accompanied with generic memories related to interesting
conversations with attractive strangers in small downtown Denver bars. If
you've ever actually been to Denver, you'll immediately recognize this as
madness. This memory was universal. We believe that however this false memory
is produced (someone has suggested memory-RNA infusions), it carries also
instructions. People seem to suffer small but significant changes, mostly in
attitude. Things that previously angered them were now tolerated, and other
often trivial things would cause them to go into incredible expressions of rage
or adoration, desire or abhorrence. They were odd about it though. They did not
seem to have any specific plan, but when confronted with some trigger stimulus,
they would experience a reaction as to conditioning, and this reaction would
guide subsequent activities. Someone might see a toaster in a bank window, and
then walk in, and open an account, even if they had to close their other
accounts to get that toaster. My company (I am an advertising copywriter) had
tried at one time to use subliminal motivation on television ads, and this was
the response we had desired, but we simply never hit on the proper technique to
achieve such motivational depth and in fact didn't much believe that such
success was possible in human beings, let alone such success within the
television media. Human beings have this odd little piece of tissue within
their heads. It's called a human brain. Usually it has something called Will,
on top of all of those other nifty little deterministic mechanisms such as
neurochemistry and force of habit and environmental stimuli, and most human
beings have it in abundance. Also, most people are contrary. That was the
biggest difference between us and The Changed. If they had any will of their
own, an ability to rise above conditioning, happenstance, and especially the
immediate sensory environment, we've never found it... unless you try to keep
them from actualizing their urges. They can get ugly. Everyone who has in
literature ever predicted the ultimate consumer, this is it. But who was
supplying the motivations? This became much more important as time went by, as
the motivations of the changed became ever more strange and obscure.
And when they come back from vacation changed, they come
back and change things. They change their banks and they change their shopping
habits, buying and selling in incomprehensible patterns and they move. They all
move back to the place where they had such nice vacations. And then, some long
time later, they come back... changed again.
When they returned from their first changing, the vacation
where they were captured, they mostly wanted just to sell everything valuable,
buy fairly costly appliances such as computers, and move to Denver. When they
returned from their stay in the Rockies, they would buy another house, get a
mundane job, avoid anyone they had known before, and mutate.
Most of Those Changed weren't really so much different as
they were... plastic. They generally grew, though not much. But their heads
changed. It was not so much as a loss of hair, for often where they had been
balding before there was a new profusion of hair. But they always displayed new
growth of the frontal bone, and other changes in the face, hands and feet.
These were symptoms of a growth-hormone disorder... but after we sent a few
fellows west on reconnaissance missions, and filmed their captures and watched
them come home with stories of nice vacations, so nice that they were selling
everything to live there as if they were on a one-way trip to meet God, we
started filming them a lot.
After detaining the first two sent who so returned, we
decided to let the third, not a local, return into the community for intense
observation. Mostly he was who he had been, and he was very confused by the
rejection from a few close friends. More like him returned to their own
communities, and people watched them there. And as we learned more, more of us
got involved. It was hard to not get involved in one way or another.
Unfortunately, most of the people who got involved wound up with implanted
memories of a wonderful vacation in Aurora, Colorado.
So, having noticed that friends, family, and co-workers were
Changed, we watched them like hawks and we saw that they were still changing.
They were being rebuilt, the same way one is rebuilt as a teenager. And they
were plastic. And that's why we noticed the wires.
Why would a growing bone not under much load deform so
intensely? And if you simply looked, you could see them, the wires which ran
like an orthodontist's headgear from the front of the face to the back of the
head, from the corners of the brows to cross over the top of the skull, hooking
over the styloid process. As we watched in elapsed-time horror, some of us
watched friend's bones grow over the wires, watched their head assume shapes
not before seen on this earth. They weren't really horrible when they were
done, they were just, well, we found it hard to think of them as human beings
anymore. Some of us lost the ability to see them as human. This was easy to do,
for as the frontal bone grew, these people also generally put on a lot of mass,
and the frontal-bone growth left them with the heads of gorillas, huge forehead
with a low brow, sloping up to a point on the top of the head. Those of us who
had watched a lot of National Geographic specials noticed that, to a
great degree, they began to act rather like gorillas as well as looking like
For all that they remembered all of the same things as did
the kids you grew up with, there was nothing much in common with them. They
might be nice people, but you had no idea what their goals were... except for
They really really wanted you to go on vacation. They had
the address of the place and everything, and would rhapsodize on the subject of
their dream vacation. By now we had figured out that the people behind all of
this (little then did we know) had some sort of memory-RNA treatment or
something similar that induced false memories and also seemed to pass on
conditioning. They were trying to recruit.
Some folks did go on those dream vacations, or at least they
tried. By mid-1997, one crossed into Kansas on I-70, and one was captured. All
of the states with borders contiguous to Colorado were considered occupied,
though there might well have been holdout communities hiding in the woods, or
entire towns not under their direct control. The state governments, and
certainly the police forces, medical and communications facilities (not to
mention food, water and fuel supplies) were under the control of the Changed.
Coming from California, you might make it as far as Las Vegas, and to go
farther north than San Francisco was to take major risks. For some reason,
whatever the beings were which our compatriots had become, they seemed little
interested in the hotter, drier parts of the country. They liked snowbound
elevations, rainy forested climates, and Denver and Seattle seemed to suit them
just fine. They simply, as near as we could tell, hated the Sun. Eventually,
they stopped expanding much beyond their Rocky Mountain Empire, and merely
Changed anyone who passed through their domain. Those so Changed did their
usual thing of moving back to Denver, and then returning, and for the most
part, acting normal.