Deceiving Appearances

Image by Caleb Jones via Unsplash.

Professor Josh MacElroy’s classroom was on the first floor and had large windows, so he could see the black cars pull up. MacElroy had never had much idea about motor vehicles, but the boxy, menacing shape of those SUVs spoke tomes. The aspect of the people who stepped out of them -dark suits, shades, exuding self-confidence yet stealing sideways glances everywhere- confirmed it.

And sure enough, a few minutes later there was a knock at his door, interrupting his lecture. Through the glass on the door he saw it was Chancellor Chandler. She stepped in without waiting for him to answer. She signalled him to approach the door.

“Sorry, one minute,” he said to his class. Murmurs started immediately.

“The class is over,” he said that minute later. The students, in the long tradition of students everywhere, murmured louder. “Until new notice,” he finished. There were even muffled cheers.

MacElroy followed the instructions Chandler had given him, and met with a two people in severe black suits and ties.

“Professor MacElroy, agents Smith and Johnson, KSOU,” she said. The agents, man and woman, didn’t budge. So MacElroy was right: they were from the Kaiju Special Operations Unit. Not such a stretch of imagination, since he was one of the most renowned authorities on kaiju alive. Or the most renowned one, if he chose to leave modesty aside. “They are in need of your expertise and their… authority forces me to lend you to them.”

“Grab your things, Professor,” the female agent said. “We leave in five.” MacElroy noticed then that he didn’t know who was Smith and who was Johnson. He didn’t think it mattered much.

Ten minutes later, MacElroy travelled in the back seat of one of the monster SUVs, one silent agent to his left and one to his right. He didn’t want to check the speedometer, but he was quite sure the world outside didn’t usually to move so fast. The female agent drove in silence, keeping her distance with the identical SUV before her.

“Agent, eh…” MacElroy started, bending slightly forward.

“Johnson,” she said.

“Ah, yes. Agent Johnson, can you tell me where we’re going?” MacElroy said.

“No,” she replied.

“Ah, erm, thanks. Could you at least tell me… er… tell me what kind of emergency is this?”

“No,” she said.

“Um, thanks. I think,” MacElroy said, and he tried and failed to smile at the two other agents. He remained silent. He tried to see where they were going, but beyond the fact they were approaching the coast, it was some time since he had last been able to tell where he was.

The car stopped abruptly, the agents deploying fast -there was no other way to express it- and motioning him to step out of the SUV. MacElroy found himself at a ground zero camp at the foot of a hill, surrounded by all kinds of emergency vehicles and personnel. There was an impending smell he recognized, part sea breeze, part rotten animal, with a tinge of sulphur.

“Up the hill,” Agent Johnson prompted. It looked like when she prompted, you complied, so MacElroy did so. He wasn’t particularly fit, so the hike uphill, brief but steep, left him almost breathless. He put his hands on his knees to rest for a moment. Agent Johnson simply stood by his side.

MacElroy looked down the other side of the hill.

“Holy mother of God,” he said.

“Not exactly,” a new female voice said. “A dead kaiju, rather. Not a large one, thankfully: I estimate not even five hundred tons.”

The owner of the voice wore a tattered coat over her suit. A cigarette stub dangled from the corner of her mouth. It was carefully unlit. An air of command surrounded her.

“Major Villanueva,” she said, offering her hand. MacElroy shook it. “You must be Professor MacElroy.” MacElroy noticed she didn’t mention what agency she belonged to.

“Pleased to meet you, major,” MacElroy said. “What…?” he started.

“I need you to ascertain cause of death, prof,” she said. MacElroy thought it was better not to tell her he didn’t like being called that. “I don’t like this. We have to make sure it was an accident. It took us twenty years to develop communication with the kaiju and ten more to reach a peace agreement. I have the kaiju delegation on top of me. They’re even sending a representative over.”

“A… representative?” MacElroy asked. Villanueva nodded. A kaiju representative could mean only one thing: a hybrid. MacElroy almost started salivating.

“We do have our own experts, of course,” Villanueva said. “But I wanted the best. Get to work, prof.”

Before MacElroy could move, an agent came over and hushed something in Villanueva’s ear.

“Bring her in,” the major said.

The agent waved, and three figures approached. MacElroy stared at them: two were undoubtedly agents, and he started thinking whether they cloned them; the third one was, to him, much more interesting.

A hybrid.

Strictly speaking, the name was wrong, since they weren’t hybrids. There simply was no way to hybridize humans and kaiju. MacElroy felt a chill just thinking of it. But they were, to all effects, kaiju in human form. Or the best approximation kaiju had managed, at least. And Villanueva had been right: all kaiju were female, even though the hybrid, MacElroy could see now, was built to resemble a male. A large, boxy, scaled, noseless male.

“Pleased to meet you, representative,” Villanueva said. She did not extend her hand. Correct again, Macelroy thought. “I am major Villanueva, chief investigator in this enquiry. This is Professor MacElroy, the best civil expert in kaiju physiology. I’ve requested his help.”

“Pleased to meet… you,” the representative said. MacElroy thought she sounded like a Star Trek character whose universal translator malfunctioned.

“How should we address you, representative? Are you an individual?” MacElroy couldn’t restrain himself. The representative stared at him, doubting. He knew there was no word for ‘individual’ in kaiju: the closest term was the one that designed a dysfunctional kaiju that strayed from the hive. She must be trying to understand his questions.

“I… am Kaiju,” the representative said. That answered both questions. MacElroy nodded. He represented the collective.

“I assure you I’ll do my best,” MacElroy said.

“You better will,” Villanueva interjected.

“I… am sure of that,” Kaiju said. “I have been told to be… sincere. There are… factions within the kaiju. Some of… us do not agree with the peace treaty. Our… government believes there may have been… foul play… I have been sent to make sure the… proceedings are… correct.”

MacElroy felt a chill when he heard ‘correct’. He feared that the representative had used the most common translation for the kaiju term, but ‘correct’ didn’t start to cover the extent of it. MacElroy was sure that ‘correct’ also covered honest, lawful and a commitment to perform with an effort without limits. He wasn’t sure Villanueva was aware of that.

“You don’t ignore,” Villanueva said, “that there are also human factions unhappy with the treaty. We will ascertain what’s happened.”

“I’ll get to work immediately,” he said, and started walking towards the beach and the carcass.

***

“See those stains around the mouth?” MacElroy told them, showing a particular picture on his tablet. “I’m sorry, but that means poison. It’s a very particular compound, innocuous for humans, but mortal for kaiju.”

Villanueva cursed.

“How… was it administered?” Kaiju asked.

“Well, kaiju feed territorially, as you well know. My best guess is, poisoned fish in her territory” MacElroy said.

“Damn,” Villanueva said. “They must have pretended to be kaiju watchers. There are thousands of them.”

“Kaiju… watchers?” the representative said.

“Fans,” Villanueva said. “Admirers. More or less a year after the treaty, humans started flocking to kaiju feeding grounds. You must have noticed them. They stay out, in boats of all sizes, and they take pictures and movies.”

“Why do… they do that?”

“Humans do it,” MacElroy explained. “We collect things, memories, anything. People will collect pictures and movies of any particular subject, like kaiju.”

“And there’s the danger,” Villanueva added. “It’s not strictly forbidden, but people know the terms of the treaty.”

“I… see.” Somehow MacElroy thought she did not.

“Anyway, we will localize her feeding ground,” Villanueva said. “We’ll check out our satellites and try to find out which, if any vessels were present when she fed. I’ll see to it immediately.” She produced a smartphone and walked away.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” MacElroy said.

“Pardon… me?” Kaiju said.

“I know all of you can feel it. I mean, the collective. Losing one unit is a loss for the collective, isn’t it?”

“Isn’t it the same for… humans?” Kaiju asked.

“Not really. Our sense of individuality is too strong. It could be if we lose a family member, or a very close friend.” MacElroy understood how alien the concepts must sound to her.

The hybrid stood silent for a few seconds. Then she nodded.

“Who… did this?”

“I honestly don’t know,” MacElroy said. “That’s not my field of expertise. I’m a scientist, not an investigator. Major Villanueva has my full report; finding out who did it is her job.”

“I… see.”

***

“Professor MacElroy, a moment of your time, please?” Villanueva said.

“Of course, major,” he said.

“Over here, please,” she said. They both walked over to one of the prefabricated cabins Villanueva’s team had erected. She unlocked it and held the door open for him. MacElroy entered and saw one table with a metallic loop in the center, and one chair. He noticed both the table and the chair were nailed to the floor.

“An interrogation room, major? Do we need so much privacy?”

“Not really,” Villanueva said. “Are you recording, Johnson?” she said, touching her ear. “Good. Sit down, prof.”

“What’s the matter, major?” MacElroy said, sitting down. He was starting to dislike this.

“Professor, what was the chemical compound used to poison the kaiju, again?”

“Iso-ternig 27. It’s in my report.”

“How do you know it?” she asked.

“What? What do you mean?”

“I mean, prof, that the 27 is a military-grade chemical compound. One of those your unit worked on during the kaiju war.”

MacElroy paled. Villanueva tapped her own tablet and slid it on the table.

“I had done my own research before I called you in, prof. It’s my speciality. I knew there was something wrong as soon as I saw those stains. I was in the war as well.”

“No! I…”

“You belonged to a chemical warfare unit. Your unit, prof, was tasked with ‘developing substances that were toxic to kaiju, who are particularly impervious to most external factors that don’t involve concussions or explosions’”, she said, tapping on the table beside the tablet.

“But I didn’t…”

“The 27 was your only success. It’s not a widely known fact. It was retired after the war, and allegedly destroyed. That’s part of the secret clauses in the peace treaty.”

“Wait! No! I…”

“Not many people knew where the last samples were. Samples that were not in agreement with the treaty. People like the leader of the team who developed the weapon.”

“You’re wrong, no!”

“Do you have a boat, prof?”

“What? Yes, I do, but…”

“Is this your boat, prof? In the feeding ground of the kaiju.” Villanueva tapped her tablet and showed him some satellite imagery.

“That… that looks like my boat, yes, but…”

“It is your boat,” Villanueva said. “It’s a clear case. I’m authorized to exert any sanction required, professor MacElroy.”

“No!”

Villanueva pulled her gun.

***

“Make sure a copy of the recording and the attached documents is sent to the kaiju representative, Johnson,” Villanueva said.

“Aye, ma’am,” the agent replied. She then turned on the spot and left.

Villanueva watched her go, then started walking in the opposite direction. She produced a second phone and spoke a command to it. Recognizing her voice patterns, the device sprang to life.

“Call Drake,” Villanueva said. After a few seconds, she spoke again. “Drake? Hawk here. It’s done. The mark didn’t suspect he had been framed, until the very end. Yes, he’s eliminated. Yes, the hybrid will be convinced, the planted evidence is solid. The government will have to give explanations as to why there was Iso-ternig 27 still in stock. We will reap huge benefits from this affair.”

Some words from the other side, then Villanueva spoke again.

“Humanity will prevail. Hawk out.”

Villanueva looked at the phone for a moment. Then she dropped it and stepped on it, hard. After that, she crouched down and zapped it with her regulation taser. She put on a glove and carefully picked up the charred remains of the device and put them in a paper bag. Then she stood and walked away.

She started whistling cheerfully on her way downhill.

~~~~

This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The SubGenre Blender Spins Again.

The Challenge this week consisted of writing 2000 words blending two (sub)genres from a list of 20. I chose two numbers from random.org and got 13 and 14, that is, “Superhero” and “Bodice Ripper”. I didn’t like that combination, so I “rolled” again and got 1 and 9, which corresponded to “Kaiju” and “Whodunit?”.

Just as I was thinking it was impossible, I found myself coming up with the idea of a kaiju victim, and started developing it. I’ve had a lot of fun with this story, even though I’ve had to make an effort to keep it within the limit. And I have failed, since I’m a bit over 2000 words.